The Score’s John Matisz headed to Grand Rapids to examine the player-development factory known as the Grand Rapids Griffins:
On a Thursday morning in early November, the sounds of hockey bounce off the walls inside a fanless rink. It’s a practice day at Van Andel Arena in Grand Rapids, Michigan, a midsized city some 150 miles west of Detroit.
Skates dig into the ice surface. A shot rings off the goalpost. Cursing fills the air after a shooter narrowly misses the net. A coach barks “Gap up! Gap up!” at a defenseman competing in a two-on-two drill.
In this hockey laboratory, there’s one coach for every two-and-a-half players. The players’ red hockey pants are emblazoned with the Detroit Red Wings’ iconic winged wheel logo, but the Grand Rapids Griffins emblem on each helmet serves as a reminder of the present moment. This is the minor leagues.
“Up top, in the NHL, you’re just worried about the final product,” says Mike Knuble, the former NHL forward who’s now an assistant coach for the Griffins. “Down here, it’s more so about the process to create the product.”
A variation of these sights and sounds can be seen and heard daily in AHL rinks across the continent, from San Diego to Laval, Quebec. All 32 NHL organizations are inherently invested in the development of their prospects – particularly in the AHL, where top affiliates compete not only for the league championship but also for the feeder league’s highest graduation rate.
For the Red Wings, a proud Original Six franchise, the significance is amplified.
Continued; this is a very lengthy but must-read…