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Red Wings Horcoff Finds Running AHL Griffins to be Daunting Task

Horcoff took over as Grand Rapids GM when Pat Verbeek left to become Anaheim GM



Shawn Horcoff, Red Wings
Running an AHL franchise is a challenging task. Just ask Red Wings assistant GM Shawn Horcoff.

Red Wings assistant general manager Shawn Horcoff recently was completing his first full season as assistant GM of the AHL Grand Rapids Griffins, Detroit’s top farm club. He’ll be the first to tell you that it didn’t go well.

For the second year in a row, the Griffins are absentees as the Calder Cup playoffs are taking place. At the conclusion of the AHL regular season, Horcoff was announcing the dismissal of Grand Rapids head coach Ben Simon and the majority of his staff.

“This is my first year from start to finish,” Horcoff said. “I learned a lot.”

Like the parent Red Wings, the Griffins were riddled by a slew of injuries. Couple that with the call ups moving to the NHL to replace the ailing Detroit players and it left the cupboard in Grand Rapids bare of capable performers.

“Having to watch the team and watch the league and get to really know the American League on a much deeper level, it’s depth,” Horcoff listed as the most vital quality required for AHL success. “You really need depth because you have to survive the injuries that happen with your own team and in the AHL.

“You have to survive it. And if they happen to be happening at the same time, you can really find yourself in a situation where it’s tough to win.”

Veterans Are Key To AHL Success

Lesson No. 2 for Horcoff is about picking the right veterans to make the mix meld together effectively. It’s more than merely signing players who pile up points. An NHL team needs experienced players who are capable of filling a void at the NHL level if need be. As well as leading the way on the ice, they also must be character guys who are willing and able to be showing the younger players what it’s going to take for them to develop into NHLers.

This is especially essential for the Red Wings. Over the next couple of years, Grand Rapids will be well-stocked with players who figure to become the future core of the Detroit roster. That group will include the likes of defensemen William Wallinder and Albert Johansson, forwards Cross Hanas and Carter Mazur and perhaps even first-round picks like defenseman Simon Edvinsson and forward Marco Kasper.

“I think it’s important to have veteran leadership, guys that not only play well on the ice but also do things the right way off the ice,” Horcoff said. “When you have a young team like we do, it’s important for them to look up to the players and their peers around them.

“It’s important for us to surround them with guys that do things the right way, because they don’t know. They haven’t been exposed to it. A lot of times this is their first real situation where they really face any sort of adversity. Just having the value of a veteran voice in the locker room that’s been through it before is very important.”

Goaltending Let Griffins Down

Grand Rapids used eight different goalies this season, a franchise record. The fact that the Griffins deployed such a variety of netminders tells you that finding one capable puckstopper was proving to be a difficuly scenario. In fact, until Red Wings goalie Alex Nedeljkovic cleared NHL waivers and was assigned to Grand Rapids, becoming a settling presence, the situation in the Griffins’ goal crease was downright toxic.

“Goaltending would certainly be a part of that,” Horcoff admitted of the team’s struggles. “We lost a lot of games that we shouldn’t have lost. If we want to be a playoff team, we definitely can’t lose those games.

Grand Rapids could use a goalie like Calvin Pickard, the Griffins netminder from 2019-22. He was a high-end AHL puckstopper. Pickard was also able to step up to the NHL in a pinch and do well.

“We need a veteran goaltender that could come in,” Horcoff said. “We have some youth that could come in but at the same time, they’re not quite ready to make that step yet, at least we don’t think they are. If they were, that would be a bonus for us.”

Busy Offseason Ahead For Griffins

So, to review, Horcoff’s to-do list this summer includes, hiring a new coach and staff. He’ll also be tasked with finding a quality AHL-level netminder and veteran leadership.

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“In the minors there’s lots of games, lots of travel,” Horcoff said. “You do need two goalies that can carry the load. Up front you’re probably looking at 2-3 forwards coming in to help solidify our core of 15 guys.

“We have a lot of young guys coming in. We do have a number of guys coming back on contracts, so I wouldn’t say there’s a ton of work to do but the areas we do need to add are very important pieces.”