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Ireland signs extension with Griffins

The Grand Rapids Griffins of the American Hockey League on Wednesday signed head coach Greg Ireland to a contract extension for the 2005-06 season.

Ireland, 39, was elevated to the head coaching position on Feb. 10, 2005, after having served as the team’s assistant coach since the start of the 2003-04 season.

The Griffins posted a 17-13-1-1 record (.563) under Ireland’s guidance, including marks of 16-10-1-1 (.607) after Feb. 24 and 12-7-0-1 (.625) after March 10. Their 12 victories over the final five weeks of the 2004-05 regular season ranked only behind four other teams with 13 wins apiece.

Despite their impressive stretch run, the Griffins finished the season in fifth place in the West Division with a 41-35-2-2 mark, becoming the first team in the AHL’s 69-year history to win more than 40 games and still miss the playoffs.

“When you look at the success we had the last couple months of the season, we were one of the better teams in the league,” said Bob McNamara, Griffins general manager. “We played hard every night, and gave ourselves a chance to get into the playoffs.”

As an assistant with Grand Rapids during the 2003-04 season, Ireland helped construct a Griffins defense that allowed a franchise-low 166 goals, placing fourth in the AHL at just 2.08 per game.

The Orangeville, Ont., native 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 (.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.