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Photo by Geoff Shirley

COACH Why the New Head Coach of the Grand Rapids Griffins Is So Hot on This Town After becoming the first player ever signed by the Grand Rapids Griffins, I played the first game at Van Andel Arena during the inaugural 1996-1997 season in front of a packed house. After a 12-year hiatus, I made my return to the Griffins – but this time as head coach – during their 20th anniversary season in 2015. And again, the home opener was sold out. Some things about Grand Rapids, no matter the amount of time that has passed, just never change. That’s not to say things don’t change around here. Grand Rapids is a thriving city that continues to grow daily and in the right direction. As you’ll see throughout this issue, Grand Rapids has reached a unique point where many longtime favorites have been successfully intertwined with new establishments and developments across the city. Looking back on when I first came to the city as a 27-year-old defenseman in 1996, I felt the area was in the early stages of what it has become today. Our world-class arena was cracking open its doors for the first time, which helped usher in a new downtown economy. After retiring as a player and then spending a year as a Griffins assistant coach in 2002-2003, I moved on to other coaching opportunities in the American and National Hockey Leagues. I would occasionally return to Grand Rapids as part of the opposing bench, and even in my brief trips back I caught glimpses of the city’s evolution: a new building here, a new restaurant or brewery there.

I think what I missed most about Grand Rapids after leaving was just all the things you can do. I know that sounds cliché, but it’s true. I’ve always appreciated Michigan’s four seasons because they fit my hobbies of fishing, hunting and golfing. All of the inland lakes and streams provide a great fishing route, and to tell the truth, I think I’ve hunted more in Michigan than I have back home in Saskatchewan. Now that I’m back in Grand Rapids full time, it has been one of the more interesting points in my career from a personal perspective to be able to see the progression of a city. I'm always discovering new things, like last year when I found out Grand Rapids owns the title of “Beer City USA.” Some things never change. The culture of winning in the Griffins organization remains constant, from back in the late ‘90s when we were an independent International Hockey League club to now in the American Hockey League as the primary affiliate of the Detroit Red Wings and the 2013 Calder Cup Champions.

In keeping with this issue’s theme of new and old, the Griffins are one of the deep-rooted mainstays in the city but remain one of the hottest tickets in town and a fixture for the future. The Griffins have proudly presented a stable franchise that is committed to winning and serving the community. We also provide a glimpse of future Red Wings, as nearly three-quarters of the Wings’ current roster spent time with us here in Grand Rapids. As a returning newcomer to the city, I am honored to welcome you to Grand Rapids. And, as a personal recommendation, if you are looking for the full Grand Rapids experience and one that encapsulates the past, present and future all in 60 minutes, I’ll see you at Van Andel Arena.

Todd Nelson

Head Coach of the Griffins

And let’s not overlook the fan support. It’s not just that they’re loud, but that they are passionate hockey fans who are educated and knowledgeable about the sport and always have been. One of the best things for me as a coach is getting to the bench and seeing a full house. From the fan support to the Detroit Red Wings organization to the Griffins’ front office and support staff, I truly enjoy coaching here.


SOLACE Fall / Winter 2016 - 2017  
SOLACE Fall / Winter 2016 - 2017