Euro prospects fuel AHL title

International Griffins squad earns first Calder Cup

20.06.2013
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Grand Rapids Griffins forward Tomas Tatar hoists the Calder Trophy. The Slovak also won the award for the playoff MVP. Photo: Dan Hickling / AHL

GRAND RAPIDS, USA – Chalk up another title for the storied Detroit Red Wings organization.

The Grand Rapids Griffins, the NHL powerhouse’s AHL affiliate, defeated the Syracuse Crunch in six games, earning its first Calder Cup title in 17 years of existence.

According to the club, it’s the 12th minor league championship in history for a Red Wings affiliate.

And though it’s called the American Hockey League, a cavalcade of international talent delivered the Calder Cup to the Western Michigan town.

Tomas Tatar potted two goals in the decisive Game 6, earning 16 total throughout the playoffs en route to winning the Jack A. Butterfield trophy as the Calder Cup Playoff MVP.

The Red Wings drafted the Ilava, Slovakia, native in 2009. He’s appeared in 27 NHL games in that time and is not only seen as an important part of the Red Wings future, but also that of the Slovak national team.

Tatar had five points in ten games at the 2012 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship for Slovakia as they earned a surprising silver medal.

Meanwhile, Tatar’s Czech teammate Petr Mrazek recorded four shutouts and a 2.31 GAA in 24 playoff games – a major reason the Griffins reign supreme over the AHL.

Mrazek, a fifth-round selection in 2010, was named the top goalkeeper at the 2012 IIHF World Junior Championship in Calgary and Edmonton, Canada.

Mrazek and Tatar are just two of the numerous Griffins that saw some action in with the big club this season as the Red Wings battled a never-ending rash of injuries during the truncated NHL campaign.

Chief among those that provided dividends for the Red Wings were the Swedish tandem of Gustav Nyquist and Joakim Andersson, who played a combined 60 games in Detroit, contributing 16 points.

The pair played in all 14 of the Red Wings playoff games before returning to action for Grand Rapids for the playoffs in order to gain further experience.

Nyquist’s 2013 season will be best remembered for his overtime game-winner against the Anaheim Ducks in game two of the Stanley Cup’s first round.

The Griffins also sport one of the most talented YouTube sensations worldwide – winger Tomas Jurco – another fundamental piece of Slovakia’s future on the international stage.

Jurco’s stickhandling and trick shot videos might be viral gold, but the Slovak is no stranger to producing in game situations, amassing eight goals and six assists during post-season play.

Another Griffin on the precipice of international stardom is Jan Mursak. Mursak is a very likely candidate to play for Slovenia at the 2014 Sochi Olympics alongside the likes of the Los Angeles Kings star Anze Kopitar.

Mursak ranked second behind Tatar on the Griffins in both goals (11) and points (17) in 23 playoff games – he’s scheduled to join Amur Khabarovsk (KHL) for the 2013/2014 season.

Among the top North American players on the international squad was former Canadian U18 national team player Landon Ferraro. The son of Ray Ferraro combined for 63 points in regular-season and post-season play in his second AHL year.

It wasn’t smooth sailing for the Griffins en route to the title. In the Calder Cup finals, Grand Rapids took a commanding 3-0 lead in the series, but credit Syracuse for pushing it to six games, creating some nervous moments for the Griffins.

Akin to Grand Rapids, Syracuse (Tampa Bay Lightning affiliate) boasts its own host of international talent including: Brett Connolly (Canada), Tyler Johnson (USA), Ondrej Palat (Czech Republic), Richard Panik (Slovakia) and Andrej Sustr (Czech Republic).

Palat’s 26 points led all playoff scorers. That total included a whopping 19 assists – also best in the AHL.

The European slant on the Calder Cup Finals lends itself to the perpetual surge of overseas scouting by NHL clubs and the continued diversification of NHL rosters.

Whatever the reason, NHL pipelines remain filled and the future bright for teams investing heavily in talent that shone on the international stage with their junior national teams.

RYAN O’LEARY


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