It was September. Training Camp. The future was bright, rainbows and unicorns were abundant. Coach Fraser had assured that we were going to love this yearâ€™s team. Watching the likes of Cory Emmerton, Jan Mursak, Tomas Tatar, Brendan Smith, etc. practice and scrimmage with the Wings, we couldnâ€™t help but believe him. Most exciting was the return of Joey MacDonald, the Griffins hero goaltender. He holds every goaltending record for the Griffins. Many days had we longed for the return of JoeyMac. We watched and started to think, this is the year. This is the year the Griffins finally live up to our dreams, make the playoffs, and possibly even win the Calder Cup!
Oh how naive we were. Weâ€™ve seen it before. A very promising team that has no excuse to lose somehow manages to…constantly. I remember the year of Donald MacLean. He was a star in the AHL. The Griffins had an awesome supporting cast. We were out in the first round. But at least they made it to the playoffs.
For the first time we can recall, the Griffins got to start the season at home. The home opener was October 8, and the building was electric. Every season ticket holder was filled with great expectations. I can hardly remember it, but I know we expected nothing less than a commanding win. After everything we had seen up in TC, after everything Coach Fraser had promised us, we were bound to win that one and continue winning. A shoot-out loss isnâ€™t the worst thing, but not the start we were hoping for. The Griffins went 5-2-1 in the month of October, with only one of those wins coming at home. Memories of the past season, when they could not win at home, began to surface but were quickly pushed aside.
It just never got better. Horrible performances at home. An admission from Ilari Filppula that the home fans deserved better. Yet the losses kept piling up. And then the worst happened. Chris Osgood went down, and Joey MacDonald was called up. And not for a game or two, for what turned out to be the rest of the season. McCollum was forced into a starting position that in hindsight he probably wasnâ€™t ready for. Pearce was called up from Toledo to back up. McCollum faltered and was sent down to Toledo for a confidence booster, which apparently took a while. The Griffins then began going through a whole list of random signings to sit on the bench behind Pearce.
To be fair to Pearce, he played as well as we could expect or desire. But he isnâ€™t as consistent as a losing team needs, and when he has a bad night it is often in the range of 6 or 7 goals. For a team that often struggles to put up even 2 goals, this became a huge problem.
And now it is April 9. Before last night, the last time we had seen the Griffins had been the March 23 contest against the Toronto Marlies. The last Wednesday game of the year. They had won every single home Wednesday game this season. They dropped this last one 5-1. At that point, the Griffins were in second in their division, a miracle only possible because the division is that bad. We were in the playoffs, we just had to hang on. They then proceeded to lose the next 4 games, dropping them to 6th in the division. Playoff hopes were decimated, though technically still alive. They won on Wednesday, which technically kept them in it. They needed 3 other teams to lose their remaining 3 games and the Griffins needed to win 3 in a row to make the playoffs. Unlikely, but possible.
Last night was the Griffins final home game. No one told them. On the brink of losing all hope for the playoffs, the players already had. One of the teams ahead of them that they needed to beat was Abbotsford, who they played last night. The Griffins graciously handed them a 6-0 win and a playoff berth. How generous. Pearce was pulled after 3, McCollum (who we saw lose all confidence when thrown into the Wings embarrassing loss to the Blues before he was even really AHL ready) let in another 3. A sad and pathetic ending to a sad and pathetic season. Technically they have 2 games left on the road, but who cares?
The tragedy of this season is more than the missed playoffs in a year where it should have been a gimme. To me, the tragedy is represented by Thomas McCollum. Considered at the start of the season as the next Jimmy Howard, a mere few seasons from backing up in Detroit, I donâ€™t even know where he stands now. In training camp, we talked about how he exuded confidence from the net, directing traffic and facing every shot like he just knew he was going to stop it. Somewhere in the midst of the Griffins terrible defense (led by none other than Doug Janik), McCollum lost himself. And he lost all confidence.
Just when he was getting back on track, playing really well in Toledo, the Wings had to call him up in an emergency to back up Joey McDonald (interestingly, the tandem that started the Griffins season). He was then thrown into a situation where the team in front of him was…well, we donâ€™t need to get into that. In his first NHL appearance, he did not come close to shining. No one can blame him…except for him. I watched from my couch knowing that I was watching all the progress be flushed down the toilet.
This season was full of disappointments. Every player on that team knows they did not get the job done. Each person went home last night knowing that they could have done more. Every single one of them…except Tomas Tatar.
The brightest point of the season: Tomas Tatar. He never stopped working, he never stopped caring, he never stopped skating. After he was called up and returned, he worked just as hard as he ever had, which is not the norm.
On defense, Logan Pyett, Travis Ehrhardt, Brendan Smith, Sergei Kolosov and Doug Janik fall into the disappointing category. Greg Amadio was great, and got better as the season went on. Brian Lashoff I actually thought out-performed what was expected of him. Meech somehow managed 10 goals, 37 points and +18, all while making me think he was one of our biggest problems. Thatâ€™s some real talent. Brendan Smith was the most disappointing, mostly because expectations were so high. Ehrhardt has plenty of time. Kolosov is likely done with the organization. Though once promising, he will never be a Red Wing and I would be surprised to see him in the NHL anywhere. I donâ€™t know for sure if Pyett has another year or not, but if he doesnâ€™t I wouldnâ€™t expect to see him next year.
Janik…please just leave.
On offense, Cory Emmerton, Francis Pare, Jamie Johnson, Adam Keefe, Chris Minard, Joakim Andersson, Brandon Straub, and Jordon Owens were sub-par. Johnson, Keefe, Minard and Straub donâ€™t matter, they are not in the system (though I disliked every one of them this season and secretly blame them…).
Emmerton being disappointing is a problem for him, as next year he either needs to make the big club or clear waivers. He was +2, which is something on a team full of minuses. I would not be surprised to see him playing for another AHL team next year, which is very disappointing.
Francis Pare seems lost. He was the guy that the Wings signed a year and a half or so ago because he was so impressive with GR. Those days are gone, apparently leaving with Francis Lemieux, his former linemate. (Disclaimer: Pare had 23 goals and 53 points this season, 4th on the team, but he had the second worst +/- and had a tendency to lose the puck and give up or ruin many opportunities, which is why I placed him in the disappointing column.)
Joakim Andersson was just horrible this year. Beyond horrible. I dreaded seeing his huge, awkward frame on the ice.
Jordon Owens was one in training camp that we were super excited about because of his great speed and scoring touch. He used that up in TC, apparently, as he only scored 6 this season.
Tomas Tatar, Ilari Filppula, Jan Mursak, and Jamie Tardif were the top offensive players this year. Tardif, the current captain of the team, is not expected to score a lot of goals, yet he led the team with 27 goals. Still a tough guy, he was never afraid to step up and defend his teammates either.
Mursak had a seemingly disappointing 13 goals and 35 points, but he only played in 54 games, thanks to the Wings.
Filppula shows some of the stick skill of his brother, but Valterri is definitely the more naturally skilled of the two. Ilari works harder, though, and topped the team with 63 points, including 20 goals. His status after this season is up in the air, but Iâ€™d love to see him with the Griffins again next year and I think he has what it takes to make it to the NHL, even to Detroit. I doubt heâ€™ll ever be Val-caliber, but he is good in his own right.
In goal, Pearce did well with what he was presented, He played 42 games with a GAA of 2.88 and a SV% of .908. Sadly, he will be leaving us this offseason (according to a booster club source), as his self-proclaimed 3-year window has closed. Despite passing McCollum in the depth chart and earning the Griffins starting position, he will soon become Dr. Pearce.
Joey McDonald only played in 20 games before being hauled up to Detroit, and only managed an .894 SV%, but did have a 2.78 GAA. McCollum played 22 games, having the worst numbers of the three, GAA of 3.33 and SV% of .879. MacDonald will be our starter next season, if heâ€™s not still backing up Howard, and in all probability, McCollum will be backing up. The plan this season was to have MacDonald mentor McCollum, and hopefully, if they can do that next season, Thomas will once again become the promising goalie prospect that he was last year.
This was a bad year all around. Many prospects took steps back or stopped moving forward. A few stepped up as the next to make the jump to Hockeytown. And Season Ticket Holders were left to stand in groups in the stands and wonder what went wrong.
Training Camp tickets go on sale at Centre Ice Arena next Saturday. The process will soon start all over again. And no matter what, next year I will not listen to Coach Curt Fraser.