Checkers beat Griffins at Van Andel Friday night

By Pat Evans - 

GRAND RAPIDS - The Grand Rapids Griffins can’t seem to get comfortable in Van Andel Arena, as they dropped their second home game of the season, 5-0 to the Charlotte Checkers Friday night.

The loss continues the Griffins’ struggles at home, dating back to the Calder Cup Final. In the last four home games Grand Rapids is 0-4. Meanwhile, the road is the Griffins’ friend, seeing a 7-0-1-1 record in their last nine since last season.

“I don’t think there is an excuse, we just had a bad game,” said Griffins forward Luke Glendening, following his first Griffins appearance due to a four-game stint with the Red Wings. “It’s the second one at home that we gave away. We can’t continue to do this.”

Goals are coming at a premium for Grand Rapids. In the season opener, the Griffins lit up the scoreboard against Erie Monsters with eight goals. Since the Oct. 4 game, Grand Rapids has scored 12 goals in five games.

Some of the struggles stem from slow starts, Grand Rapids head coach Jeff Blashill said.

“We were real flat in the first,” Blashill said. “Then we didn’t execute on the penalty kill.”

Goals were scarce in Friday’s game for the Griffins as well, and their goaltending was not much better as Petr Mrazek allowed two goals and Tom McCollum let by three.

The first period saw some hard-hitting from both squads, first as Griffins defenseman Brennan Evans laid out former Plymouth Whalers star Chris Terry into the boards. Although no penalty was called, Terry remained on the ice for several minutes as play was halted.

The Checkers eventually capitalized on two late-period penalties. Charlotte defenseman Mark Flood collected a rebound as Mrazek was on the far side of the net and flipped it up and above diving Griffin Mitch Callahan. The goal came a second before Griffins forward Luke Glendening was about to leave the box with 2:29 seconds left in the period.

With 44 seconds left in the period, Terry collected a pass from Michal Jordan and fired the puck from the top of the right circle past Mrazek.

The first period was enough to put the Griffins back for good, defenseman Xavier Ouellet said.

“We started bad and it was really hard to get back into the game,” Ouellet said. ”Our bad start killed us. That’s hockey, we have to find a way to turn the page.”

McCollum replaced Mrazek at the start of the second period.

The switch wasn’t because the goals Mrazek gave up were bad; Blashill said he hoped a goaltending change could help his team rally.

“Tommy hadn’t played in awhile,” he said. “I thought it might give us a jolt.”

Although Charlotte goalie John Muse and McCollum made their fair share of great saves through the period, McCollum fell behind as Charlotte forward Victor Rask round the top stickside corner of the net with about 5:30 remaining in the second period.

The first half of the third period saw the Griffins look strong, but still failing to make an offensive impact.

“I thought we tried enough early in the third period,” Blashill said. “Once they scored, we uncharacteristically quit playing. This group hasn’t (done that), it happened tonight.”

With 11:24 left in the third period, Charlotte forward Brendan Woods found McCollums five-hole, with the help of a deflection, to give the Checkers the 4-0 lead.

Another Charlotte power play goal found its way into the net with 5:54 remaining in the third period when Zach Boychuk bounced one past McCollum.

The Griffins still have two games this weekend, with a game in Chicago Saturday and in Iowa on Sunday. It’s the first of six three games in three days this season for Grand Rapids.

The team will spend upwards of 20 hours on a bus this weekend, if the team can win in Chicago, it doesn’t all have to be negative.

“It gives a lot of time to think, that’s for sure,” Glendening said. “You hope you get your mind right on the bus ride.”

The team was without centers Gustav Nyquist and Riley Sheahan, and could be all weekend. But Blashill said that isn’t an excuse.

“We had 20 players who were easily good enough to win the game,” he said. “I don’t ever think about the players we don’t have, we’re good enough if we execute.”