Home Rampage Central Game Day Preview: Grand Rapids Griffins at San Antonio Rampage

Game Day Preview: Grand Rapids Griffins at San Antonio Rampage

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Opening weekend of the 2018-19 AHL season is finally here. Game #1 sees the San Antonio Rampage at home and welcome in the Grand Rapids Griffins as a new era begins in the Alamo City with the Rampage beginning a new affiliation with the St. Louis Blues. We caught up with the Griffins Nest (@GrGriffinsNest) to get the 411 on the Griffins. So away we go into our new look game previews!

  • 1 – (RC) These two teams have seen some changes during the offseason, most notably with the Rampage beginning a new affiliation with the St. Louis Blues. What’s been the biggest change for the Griffins coming into the season?

The Griffins have faced a lot of roster turnover coming into this season. One of the top goal scorers last season, Eric Tangradi, has moved on and has signed with the New Jersey Devils organization. Also, the Griffins lost fan favorite winger Matt Lorito to free agency. One of the biggest additions to the Griffins this upcoming season will be Filip Zadina. Zadina was considered to be the 3rd best player in the 2018 Draft and fell all the way to Detroit at 6th overall. He has an elite shot and is one of the best goal scorers.

Unfortunately, the 18-year-old struggles a little bit with his defense and physicality playing against men with man bodies so he will spend some time in Grand Rapids. How long that will be is yet to be seen, by the new year he could very well be making his mark in the NHL with the Red Wings. The Griffins look to see players who will get their first full season with the Griffins this year. Players like Giviani Smith, a player coming from the Kitchener Rangers in the OHL looks to be a player who takes on the “enforcer” role. We also look forward to seeing the first full season of college free agent signing David Pope, who looked very good at the NHL Prospect Tournament in Traverse City this year. Along with that, both goaltenders, Jared Coreau and winningest goaltender in franchise history Tom McCollum are no longer on the team. To replace those netminders, the RedWings have signed Harri Sateri in free agency, who had the 3rd best save percentage (.927) with the Springfield Thunderbirds last season.


He will be the starter most nights for Grand Rapids this upcoming season. The role will go to Patrik Rybar, a 24-year-old goalie from Slovakia. He is a prospect goalie that was undrafted and signed this year after a great season in the Czech Republic. To top all of the changes, this offseason we lost our Calder Cup winning coach Todd Nelson as he took an assistant coaching job with the Dallas Stars. We have former Griffins Assistant Ben Simon taking over as the head behind the bench. Ben Simon was the undoubted favorite going into the coaching search with his relationship with the players and coaching experience. This will be his first AHL head coaching job, but he has been the head coach in the ECHL before so this is not an entirely new experience for him.

  • 2) The Detroit Red Wings reassigned Chris Terry to the Griffins this week. Terry was the leading scorer in the AHL last season with 71 points. How much of an advantage is it to have such a skilled player like Terry on the team?

Chris Terry is an established goal scorer in the AHL. With 32 goals last season in Laval, he was 2nd in the whole AHL. This free agency signing appears to be an attempt to replace the goals lost by Eric Tangradi. Chris Terry is a fantastic winger who has scored 30+ goals in the last 2 seasons. The 29-year-old has bounced between the AHL and the NHL pretty much his whole career, but with his age, it appears that he will stick in the AHL, especially with the quality of forward prospects that are in the Detroit RedWings system. A pure goal scorer like Terry opens up the ice around his line-mates. When the defense needs to monitor a player as talented as Terry, they are more liable to make mistakes when covering the other players on the ice. Especially when you can have the players on the ice be as talented as the Griffins will have.

Last year in Laval, the talent of that team was not very good so Terry needed to create a lot of offense on his own. The powerplay will be a place where Terry will shine. The Griffins project to have a very strong powerplay again this season and his contributions will only help that special team unit.

  • 3) The Griffins will start their season with two road games in Texas against the Stars and Rampage. Grand Rapids went 22-10-1-5 on the road last season, so do they prefer to start on the road or at home? 

Van Andel Arena has one of the best atmospheres in the AHL. The Van always draws a large crowd regardless of the day of the week and always provides a boost to the team, but when you go on road trips in the AHL, and San Antonio knows this better than anyone when the rodeo comes to town, you are gone for weeks at a time due to the scheduling and low budget league that the AHL is. So when a team goes on a road trip, it is vital that the veteran on the roster provide a good environment and mood in the locker room. That is something that Grand Rapids has done a great job in recent years. To win in the AHL, teams need a correct balance of young kids and veterans to make sure the team stays in good spirits. The young kids usually provide the speed and energy on the ice while the vets bring the stability to the team. When you are away from home for 2 or 3 weeks, when we go out west, it gets difficult with all of the exhaustion from the game, and then the travel on top of it. The veterans like defensemen Brian Lashoff is one of the leaders on the team who knows how to win, especially on the road.

Another key to winning on the road is momentum. There were a few times last year where the team was on a winning streak going into Manitoba, one of the best teams in the league, and was able to win the road series simply because the team was confident in themselves to stay smart on the ice and get the job done.

Beginning the season on a road trip also provides a great team bonding experience. This will be very beneficial with many new faces in the locker room. It provides a great opportunity for the team to come together off the ice and grow a strong bond.

4) Last season, the Rampage lost all four meetings against the Griffins, going 0-3-1. What is it about Grand Rapids that makes them such a difficult opponent

The AHL is interesting in that you need players to be willing to go to the “dirty” areas of the ice. Players that are willing to become a net-front presence and stand in front of a goalie while a 100 MPH puck is coming at you. That is a very physical place, in front of the net, and a player who is strong that can hold his own can lead to some “ugly” rebound goals that count the same as the breakaway dazzle goals.

One of the best ways to win in the AHL is to simply play a sound defensive game. The AHL doesn’t have the most talented players in the world; as they go to the NHL. So defensive positioning is needed in order to help out your goalie. If a team is solid in the defensive end, they usually can win some tough games and help out the offense by keeping the scores low.

Another key to winning is using “smart physicality”. The Griffins have done this for years where they are physical and they may grab a player and do things that are close to a penalty, but not a penalty. Some fans may think that the Griffins are dirty players with some of their open ice hits and style of play, but there is a line that divides a penalty and good tough playing. When a team can find that balance in their game, they become extremely difficult to beat.

Essentially, it all comes down to knowing the team’s strengths. The Griffins always seem to focus on getting players that are able to score goals in any way possible. The Griffins know that if they can hold a team on the defensive end until they get a power play, they will probably gain a lead. One way to beat the Griffins is to keep them off the powerplay. Grand Rapids looks to have one of the best powerplay units again this year and if a team can keep that unit off the ice, they will have a swingers chance at beating them.

  • 5) Tell us something we should know about the Griffins.

The Griffins appear to be another playoff team once again. There were some concerns at the end of the season last year with expiring contracts of important players, but those issues appear to have been addressed. The Griffins will run with a veteran-heavy forward group with most spending a few seasons in the AHL who know the game. On the blue-line however, it is going to be a very young defensive core for Grand Rapids this season. That seems to be the theme with most of the defensemen this year for the Griffins.

Filip Hronek, made the All-Rookie team last year with 39 points and will run the top powerplay unit again this year. Vili Saarijarvi is an undersized defenseman who will really be turning heads this season. He’s a fantastic 2-way defenseman who always plays a great defensive game and moves the puck to the forwards with great passes. Libor Sulak is an undrafted larger defenseman from the Czech league. He also will be competing for a roster spot in Detroit. He isn’t afraid to be physical, moves the puck well, and is solid on the back end. There are also a few guys coming out of college that will be pushing to make the Griffins lineup. The blue line could be very fluid this year with multiple call-ups to Detroit.

It will be another fun year in Grand Rapids as the fans are ready to go and “Pack The Van” to watch some great hockey this year. We fully expect a great team again this year that should be in the conversation when talking about teams that can go on a run and win the 2019 Calder Cup.

2017-18 Team Results

San Antonio Rampage – Finished 3rd in Pacific Division, did not make playoffs

Grand Rapids Griffins – Finished 2nd in Central Division, lost to Manitoba in First Round

All-Time History

San Antonio is 0-7-1 in their last eight meetings with the Detroit Red Wings affiliate, including losing all four meetings in 2017.

Season Series

10/6/18: vs. GRR

11/30/18: @ GRR

12/5/18: @ GRR

2/1/19: vs GRR

2/15/19: @ GRR

2/16/19: @ GRR

3/19/19: vs GRR

3/24/19: vs GRR

Last time

The Rampage fell 6-2 to the Griffins at the AT&T Center on April 13. Austin Poganski and Andrew Agozzino each scored for the Silver and Black but they were no match for the high offensive of Grand Rapids.

Game Highlights

The Matchup

Grand Rapids Griffins (0-1-0-0) at San Antonio Rampage (0-0-0-0)

AT&T Center – Puck Drop 7 pm Central Time

Where to Watch: AHL TV

Prediction

Rampage – 2

Griffins – 3

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Stephen Michael 26, is a journalist, social media coordinator, host, and entertainment reporter. Michael graduated in 2017 with a bachelor’s degree in Communication Arts and earned a Master's Degree in Digital Media in 2020 from the University of the Incarnate Word. He has worked covering the San Antonio Rampage, Stars, and San Antonio Futbol Club. He was the host of the Project Spurs Roundtable on NBC affiliate News 4 San Antonio from 2015-17.

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