The Grand Rapids Griffins and Detroit Red Wings on Wednesday announced a five-year extension of their affiliation agreement, ensuring that the relationship between Michigan’s premier hockey teams will continue through at least the 2016-17 season.
The 10-year-old affiliation, currently in its final season of a second five-year deal, has helped produce a Stanley Cup and an AHL regular season championship, along with multiple division titles for both teams.
Geographically, with the two teams located just 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,” said Red Wings Executive Vice President and General Manager Ken Holland. “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,” Holland said. “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, this new agreement transfers responsibility for all players and hockey operations staff – including coaches, equipment managers and trainers – to the Red 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 Red 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 Red Wings and Toronto 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’re 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 Red 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 two weeks ago.
For the Red Wings, the impact of the affiliation has been unmistakable on the ice at Joe Louis Arena. The names of nine Grand Rapids alumni were engraved on the Stanley Cup following Detroit’s 2008 title, and 15 current or former Griffins played a part in the Red 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 Red 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 logged at least one complete season in Grand Rapids prior to earning a full-time job with the Red Wings: Howard, MacDonald, Jonathan Ericsson, Jakub Kindl, Niklas Kronwall, Kyle Quincey, Justin Abdelkader, Cory Emmerton, Valtteri Filppula, Darren Helm, Jiri Hudler and Jan Mursak.