Grand Rapids Griffins reflect on ‘ups and downs’ of season

Grand Rapids Griffins reflect on ‘ups and downs’ of season

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — The Grand Rapids Griffins’ locker room is officially empty.

Players cleaned out their lockers Tuesday before and after exit interviews and said their goodbyes for the summer.

“One of the (players’) wives said it best: ‘Do you guys not cry when you say goodbye?'” right wing Matt Luff said. “I’ve been with these guys for, whether it’s two years or eight months, you get so tight over those eight months. I don’t think people understand how many hours you spend with these guys and how much fun it is or what they go through — the ups and downs, the highs and lows. It’s a little sad, but you’ve always got communication. I think everyone knows if you ever need to reach out, every guy on the team’s there for each other.”

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The Griffins’ season ended after a Game 5 loss to the Milwaukee Admirals on Sunday. Even though the year didn’t end with a Calder Cup in Grand Rapids, players reflected positively on the season.

“I think being with a young group, blending together with the old guys and going on a run, getting a team that’s deserved to be there for so many years back to the playoffs and contend, that’s what sticks out the most, for sure,” right wing Tyler Spezia said.

Many players spend time with both the Griffins and Detroit Red Wings during the season, including left wing Zach Aston-Reese. With the ups and downs that come during a season, he has no regrets.

“For most people, it was a slow start,” he said. “It was just something in the cosmos that was aligned incorrectly that was making that happen, I don’t know, but right after Thanksgiving/Christmas time, everyone kind of turned it around. I learned a lot, honestly.”

In his first year as head coach, Dan Watson led the Griffins to the playoffs for the first time since 2017.

“I think Watty was great,” Luff said. “The communication we had, whether I was hurt or during the progression getting back to playing, and playing, it was always really direct. The door was always open if I had questions about what he saw versus what I saw. I think he did a great job, and where we are from last year to this year was a huge step.”

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Watson made sure to foster a culture that’s focused on teamwork.

“It happens organically, number one,” Watson said. “You’ve got to involve some outside influences, like pingpong, bowling nights, anywhere they can get outside of the locker room and become a closer-knit group. Then just set the standards and expectations inside that locker room and make sure those are being held accountable, both by staff and by players.”

Players will go home for the summer or train elsewhere before the next cycle begins.

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