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Griffins turn to Ireland

The Grand Rapids Griffins of the American Hockey League on Thursday named Greg Ireland as the team’s new head coach. He replaces Danton Cole, who has been relieved of his duties after guiding the team for the last two-and-a-half years.

Ireland, 39, will undertake his first game as Grand Rapids’ head coach on Friday, when the Griffins host the Utah Grizzlies at 7:30 p.m. at Van Andel Arena. The Griffins are currently 24-22-1-1, good for 50 points and a share of fourth place in the AHL’s West Division.

An assistant coach with Grand Rapids since the start of the 2003-04 season, Ireland last year helped construct a Griffins defense that allowed a franchise-low 166 goals, placing fourth in the AHL at just 2.08 per game.

Ireland, a native of Orangeville, Ont., joined the Griffins organization on Aug. 1, 2003, after spending five seasons as head coach and general manager of hockey operations for the ECHL’s Dayton Bombers. From 1998-2003, he compiled an overall record of 175-134-47 (0.558) and became the winningest coach in that franchise’s history.

His most successful seasons came in 2000-01, when the Bombers set a team record with 45 wins, and 2001-02, when they claimed their first-ever division title and advanced to the Kelly Cup finals. Ireland’s first AHL experience came at the conclusion of the 2002-03 regular season, when he joined the Hamilton Bulldogs as an assistant coach during their run to the Calder Cup finals.

While in Dayton, Ireland proved to be a proficient developer of talent. Eighteen of his players earned ice time in the AHL during the 2002-03 campaign, while during his five years as coach, he sent more than 90 different players on to either the AHL or the International Hockey League.

Prior to assuming the Bombers’ helm in 1998, Ireland served as head coach for three junior teams, including the Caledon Canadians (1994-98), the Oakville Blades (1992-94) and the Milton Merchants (1991-92). He won a pair of championships with Caledon and another with Milton, and was named the Ontario Hockey Association’s Jr. A Coach of the Year with Oakville in 1994.

Ireland’s teaching skills extend to the sport of lacrosse, as he has coached several Canadian junior and midget lacrosse teams to national championships.

Greg and his wife, Erin, live in Kentwood with their two sons, Jake and Brennan.