GRAND RAPIDS – Van Andel Arena was a few octaves higher than normal as the Grand Rapids Griffins took the ice at 11 a.m. and beat the Milwaukee Admirals 4-2.
The Griffins’ 12th annual matinee game saw a crowd of school kids visit the arena and the Griffins (5-4-1-1) skate by the Admirals for their first win on home ice this season, propelled by Petr Mrazek’s goaltending and a third-period goal by Joakim Andersson.
With the win, the Griffins were able to keep Mrazek’s record a perfect 3-0.
“It was a great feeling because we won and it was my first game (at Van Andel Arena), so I’m very happy,” Mrazek said.
Grand Rapids got off to a slow start, allowing Milwaukee to take an early offensive, outshooting the Griffins 12-3 in the first period.
“(The early start) is different for sure,” Andersson said. “We weren’t prepared good enough and (Mrazek) saved the game for sure.”
Despite two consecutive penalties midway through the first period, the Griffins started the game’s scoring with a shorthanded breakaway with 6:06 left in the period. Forward Landon Ferraro made his way up the ice and found Riley Sheahan who beat Admiral goalie Jeremy Smith (a Michigan native) for his first goal of the season.
The Griffins were kept on the penalty kill for another two minutes, following their goal, when Brent Raedeke cross checked.
Mrazek could only do so much, and did his best to improve on his impressive save percentage three games into his AHL career, making 11 first period saves.
The continuous shorthanded-play did come back to haunt the Griffins, as Milwaukee’s Jonathon Blum fired a one-timer over Mrazek’s right shoulder with 4:04 left to play in the period during a 5-on-3 stretch.
“We took a couple of bad penalties there, too many at least,” Andersson said. “That dragged some energy out of the team for sure. So we have to stop doing that.”
The Griffins’ stagnant full-strength play was temporarily relieved when Griffins defenseman Brendan Smith found himself on a breakaway, but lost control. As Milwaukee attempted to clear, the Griffins retained possession and Francis Pare found the back of the net for his fourth goal of the season.
Mrazek was beat again on a strange bounce that saw a puck from an Admiral forward hit in front of him and bounce up off the top post and in.
The third period began with a few close chances by both teams, but none closer than Grand Rapids forward Tomas Tatar on a speedy breakaway that missed inches high, and was followed by a slashing penalty by the Admirals.
The score stayed knotted until 8:42 left in the game when Andersson took a pass from Gustav Nyquist and slipped the puck by Smith on a power play.
The Griffins were one-of-eight on the day on power plays, yet they scored at the most opportune time.
“Recently, our power play’s been struggling a little bit,” head coach Jeff Blashill said. “We had a hard time getting into the zone, but I thought it did build as the game went along and, thankfully, we were able to capitalize on the last one.”
Nyquist padded the Griffins lead with 29 seconds left in the game on an empty-net breakaway.