Wings, Griffins extend affiliation
New agreement runs through 2016-17 season
|Joey MacDonald is among a slew of Griffins' players who have contributed on the NHL level with the Red Wings. (Photo by Getty Images)|
The Grand Rapids Griffins have been the primary minor-league affiliate of the Wings for the past 10-years, and the clubs are currently in the final season of their second five-year deal, which has helped produce a Stanley Cup, as well as an American Hockey League regular-season championship, along with multiple division titles for both teams.
Geographically, with the teams located 160 miles apart, the affiliation is among the closest of all AHL-NHL pairings. That proximity has proved beneficial for Detroit on many occasions, as the Griffins have sent 46 players on to Hockeytown since 2002.
“The American League is critical for all NHL teams, and having a great relationship with Grand Rapids helps keep up competitive,” Wings general manager Ken Holland said. “We’re all thrilled with our arrangement. As a former minor league player myself, it’s exciting to see 8,000 to 10,000 fans and a great atmosphere in the building each night. It’s a wonderful city and there is terrific support from the community as well as the ownership. It’s a real positive environment for our young players.”
Among other benefits to the Griffins, the new agreement transfers responsibility for all players and hockey operations staff, including coaches, equipment managers and trainers, to the Wings. Already, Detroit’s assistant general managers, Jim Nill and Ryan Martin, have been overseeing the Griffins’ day-to-day hockey operations since the departure of longtime Grand Rapids general manager Bob McNamara last summer.
Also, the Griffins will play their first-ever outdoor game as part of the Wings “Hockeytown Winter Festival” at Comerica Park in December, hosting the Toronto Marlies in the lead-up to the 2013 NHL Winter Classic between the Wings and Maple Leafs at Michigan Stadium.
“We are proud to continue our partnership with one of the premier organizations in professional sports,” said Scott Gorsline, the Griffins’ chief operating officer. “Detroit is committed to developing its prospects in a winning environment. Given the Red Wings’ complete oversight of our hockey operations and their talented management team, we are confident that their remarkable ability to produce a Stanley Cup contender season after season will result in similar success for us at the AHL level.”
Over the last decade, the Griffins have won a pair of division titles and have twice advanced to the conference finals, most notably in 2005-06 when they captured the AHL’s Macgregor Kilpatrick Trophy as regular season champions.
Griffins’ fans have welcomed the Wings to Van Andel Arena for several events, including four Red & White intrasquad games – most recently in 2011 – and a “Wings for Lunch” practice in 2007. In addition, they’ve had the opportunity to watch stars such as Chris Chelios, Curtis Joseph, Manny Legace, Andreas Lilja and Chris Osgood play for the Griffins during conditioning stints. Other NHL veterans have been sent to bolster Grand Rapids’ lineup over time, including Ty Conklin, who has guided the Griffins to a 5-1 record since joining the club last month.
For the Wings, the impact of the affiliation has been unmistakable on the ice at Joe Louis Arena. The names of nine Grand Rapids alumni are engraved on the Stanley Cup from Detroit’s 2008 title, and 15 current or former Griffins played a part in the Wings’ recent NHL record-breaking 23-game home winning streak. Every game during that incredible run was backstopped by one of the Griffins’ top two all-time leaders in wins (Jimmy Howard or Joey MacDonald), and in each of the last five games during the streak, the majority of Wings who played were Griffins alumni.
In all, 19 of the 30 players who’ve skated for the parent club this season are former or current Griffins, and 12 Detroit regulars – Howard, MacDonald, Jonathan Ericsson, Jakub Kindl, Niklas Kronwall, Kyle Quincey, Justin Abdelkader, Cory Emmerton, Valtteri Filppula, Darren Helm, Jiri Hudler and Jan Mursak – logged at least one complete season in Grand Rapids prior to earning a full-time job with the Wings.