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Watson, Griffins Begin AHL Playoff Run Tonight



Dan Watson, Grand Rapids coach
Griffins coach Dan Watson.

GRAND RAPIDS — For minor league hockey coaches like Dan Watson of the Grand Rapids Griffins, the job is twofold.

He’s there to develop players, show them what it takes to be a member of the Detroit Red Wings, and also win at the same time. 

You need good players, too, but the results are ultimately the coach’s responsibility.

Dan Watson has proven successful in his debut season with the Grand Rapids Griffins.

The Griffins finished second in their division and tonight they return to the postseason for the first time in five seasons when they play on the road against the Rockford IceHogs in Game 1 of the best-of-five Central Division semifinals. The Griffins finished the regular-season series against Rockford with a 6-4-2-0 record

Griffins Overcome Slow Start

It started out rough, with four losses in the first five games. 

“It takes a little while to build culture,” Watson said. “Just doesn’t happen overnight. You know, you want to create that foundation and let the players bring it to life. It probably took a little bit longer than maybe what I anticipated but since Christmas (and) New Year’s I think what was building inside the locker room is now we’re seeing it on the ice.”

The Griffins began their rise with  the new year, earning points in 18 consecutive games and never looking back.Before the Christmas break, the Griffins were tied for the fourth-lowest points percentage in the AHL with a 9-13-3-1 record (.423). Grand Rapids then got hot. The team held the fifth-highest points percentage in the AHL after Dec. 27 with a 28-10-5-3 mark (.696). The Griffins, who sat in sixth place at the holiday break, quickly catapulted themselves into second place in the Central Division, which was their best finish since the 2017-18 season.

Young Players Maturing

“We had a lot of young guys,” said Dominik Shine, a seven-year Griffins veteran. “He really put them in spots to have success, even though it could be frustrating at times. He has been really patient with them, letting them be the players they are.”

Watson says the players, most of whom are key Detroit Red Wings prospects, have done their part.

“They respect each other and they trust each other,” be said. “They like coming to work together. It’s a fun environment. It does show on the ice and I give complete credit to our guys for how hard they worked on that. A lot of it happened organically but then we do have a good leadership group that, you know, they took it under their wings to make sure that it continues to grow and the culture gets better. And I think we’re seeing what that looks like now on the ice.”

Calmness Begets Confidence For Griffins

Goalie Sebastian Cossa, who was outstanding in net for the Griffins this season, also played for Watson in Toledo last season. 

“He’s really, really calm and collected  in the dressing room,” Cossa said. “You know, he’s got everyone’s back and they’re very personable, and I think that builds up the team, he’s done a great job of connecting the guys in there and really showing trust and the guys in there.”

Cossa got his first taste of North American pro hockey playoff action last spring with the ECHL Toledo Walleye. For other key Red Wings prospects like defensemen Simon Edvinsson, William Wallinder and Antti Tuomisto and forwards Marco Kasper and Carter Mazur, this will be their introduction to postseason play in the AHL.

The Griffins have been pointing toward the postseason since training camp, on an off the ice, physically and mentally. The hay is in the barn, the saying goes. Now it’s time to harvest. 

“We know the structure. We know what’s expected,” Watson said. “Now it’s all about details, habits and fundamentals. We want to make sure that we’re extremely detailed heading into playoffs. As a staff that’s what we’re focused on, but with the guys it’s I want to compete (and) the work ethic and the details to be extremely high heading into playoffs.”