Though the Detroit Red Wings may have not won the Stanley Cup, there is still reason to be happy in Hockeytown.
On Tuesday night in Syracuse, the Grand Rapids Griffins, the Red Wings' American Hockey League affiliate, were able to defeat the Syracuse Crunch, 5-2, to win their first Calder Cup Championship in team history.
For the most part, many of the Red Wings prospects have stuck around in their respective junior leagues before going to GR and then to the Red Wings. Prospects have also seasoned in the collegiate ranks and then spent a season or two in the AHL.
The road to the NHL for most prospects used to bypass Grand Rapids in many ways. On the other hand some prospects adjust to the next level by playing with Detroit's parent team for several years before donning a pro sweater.
With credit going to Jim Nill, Ken Holland and Ryan Martin, the current group of youngsters in the AHL were primed to win.
Grand Rapids has finally become a place for Wings prospects to win titles and not just a stop gap to the pros. And the win on Tuesday night is only the beginning.
On that championship winning team it is expected that five of those players will start in the NHL next season.
Gustav Nyquist and Joakim Andersson seized opportunities in the NHL after injuries arose and have locked themselves spots for 2013-14. It is likely that Tomas Tatar will finally play on a pro roster for a full season.
After breaking his hand in the Anaheim series, Danny DeKeyser played great minutes for the Griffins in the playoffs. He is locked up through 2013-14 but will likely start in Detroit's top-four defensive pairing. His teammate Brian Lashoff will be a defensive specialist that will work into the lineup on most nights.
Then there are the prospects on the Griffins on the cusp of playing big minutes in the NHL.
It is likely that will be Calle Jarnkrok and Tomas Jurco. Jarnkrok will join GR next season after several years in Sweden. His playmaking and right-handed shot will fill many roles on the team. He can play center or the wing. Adjusting to the North American game and the level will be the biggest challenge for this skilled forward.
Jurco has problems of his own this season. He began the 2012-13 in a major slump, scoring 16 points in 53 games. The former Saint John Sea Dog adjusted to the pace of the game and continued his scoring ways, netting 12 points in 21 games. In the playoffs, Jurco was third in scoring with eight goals and six assists in 24 games.
Depending on the status of Darren Helm's back injury, there could be a need for Riley Sheahan in Hockeytown. He put together a solid season and rebounded from an embarrassing off-ice incident in November.
A huge surprise for the Griffins this season was their help along defense. Adam Almquist and Chad Billins were point producers and made a case to crack the NHL lineup very soon. Veterans like Brennan Evans and Nathan Paetsch were shutting down the AHL's top talent.
But the back end for GR has barely scratched the surface. Nick Jensen and Ryan Sproul joined the team late in the regular season and gained valuable experience during the playoffs. Also, Mattias Backman and Xavier Ouellet are expected to began their AHL careers.
Other key players for the Griffins were Landon Ferraro and Francis Pare. Ferraro showed why he was highly regarded coming out of the 2009 NHL draft, as he led the team in goals in regular season play (24), and was third in points in the postseason.
The Griffins were able to play their way to the championship in a league where little recognition is given. Winning the Calder Cup has allowed for a new crowd of Detroit hockey fans to follow the ever-so-bright future for their parent club.
A Calder Cup does not replace winning the best prize in hockey. It will serve as a positive reminder of what the Red Wings will have to look forward to in a few years when they could win another Stanley Cup.
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