Nedeljkovic, timely scoring help Griffins earn needed wins over Cleveland, Texas on home ice

Nedeljkovic, timely scoring help Griffins earn needed wins over Cleveland, Texas on home ice

As the Grand Rapids Griffins turned in the New Year, they followed through with a seven-game stretch last week at Van Andel Arena with a trio of games, including a pair against a Central Division rival.


The Griffins entered 2023 on a three-game losing streak and were determined to end it Wednesday night against the Cleveland Monsters, the American Hockey League affiliate of the Columbus Blue Jackets.

The home side were able to strike first in the first 20 minutes as Joel L’Esperance found the net for the 12th time this season. Neither team was able to score in the second period, but Alex Chiasson helped extend the Griffins’ lead to two before halftime of the third period. As the Monsters closed the gap to within one on a goal by Owen Sillinger, Dominik Shine capped the night with an empty netter, propelling Grand Rapids to a 3-1 victory.

Nedeljkovic’s last AHL game came in March 2020 as a member of the Charlotte Checkers (Photo: Nicolas Carrillo/Grand Rapids Griffins)

GR got a small boost heading into the game, as the Detroit Red Wings sent goaltender Alex Nedeljkovic to the ‘A’s on a conditional loan. It paid dividends as the former Flint Firebird stopped 26 of 27 shots in the win, including 10 stops in the second frame.

“I felt good,” Nedeljkovic said after his first game action in almost a month. “I was looking forward to it and I had a good game.”

The Parma, Ohio native mentioned it was disappointing to be sent down and ultimately waived, but he understands he has some work to do before he has a chance to return to Detroit.

“I think like any player, you don’t want to go down like that. I’m looking forward to getting some games, finding my game again. Obviously, it’s been a rough start [in Detroit]so it was good to get a game like that under my belt.”

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Next, Grand Rapids had to prepare for a tough test against the top team in the Central, the Texas Stars, the No. 1 seed. 1 of the Dallas Stars.

The game went scoreless in the first half, although both teams had their fair share of chances on the power play. A barrage of penalties from the Stars allowed the Griffins to open up their offense in the second period, as Pontus Andreasson opened the scoring early with his ninth of the season. After an unsuccessful man-advantage attempt later in the period, Austin Czarnik missed his eighth of the season, and GR led by two heading into the third period. Leading the assist on the goal was Jakub Vrana, who has been the first point guard for the former Washington Capital since joining the team two weeks ago.

Czarnik extended the lead early in the third with a blast while shortstop past Stars goaltender Matt Murray. Grand Rapids finally won PP with L’Esperance hitting his 13th goal of the season to make it 4-0.

Unfortunately, Nedeljkovic was unable to keep the ball intact as Mavrik Bourque was a strong goal scorer for the Stars. Curtis McKenzie was then able to score his 14th goal of the season to make it a two-goal game. However, it was too little, too late, as the Griffins were able to hang on for the 4-2 win.

Grand Rapids Griffins center Austin Czarnik drives the ball against the Texas Stars on Jan. 6, 2023 (Photo: Nicolas Carrillo/Grand Rapids Griffins)

Czarnik was the first star of the night, and for good reason. The Washington native posted his fifth multi-point game as a Griffin. While spending time with the Red Wings, Czarnik continues to produce at both levels.

“It’s a calm you need,” Czarnik declared after the victory. “I have a doctor who helps me a lot, gives me confidence, just play shift after shift and stay in the moment.

Nedeljkovic looked even better in his second start with the team, making 33 saves on the night.

Stream Griffins Hockey Live: AHL.TVA HARD-WON POINT

The Griffins knew they would get a better performance from the Stars in the second half of their next game on Saturday, and boy did Texas come out swinging.

Jacob Peterson gave the visitors the lead just over 100 seconds into the contest. It was part of the opening 20 minutes in which Grand Rapids was outscored 15-8. Matej Blumel extended the Stars’ lead late in the second period, and the Griffs found themselves trailing 2-0 heading into the final stanza of regulation.

However, the Griffins did not back down. Drew Worrad scored his first minutes of the season in the third period, while Taro Hirose scored his ninth of the season with less than two minutes remaining, and the game would need overtime.

Worrad’s goal was just the second of his AHL career (Photo: Nicolas Carrillo/Grand Rapids Griffins)

Neither team scored in the extra frame, with shots needed to decide the winner. Despite some big stops from Nedeljkovic, the Stars were able to prevail, earning a pseudo-split with a 3-2 win.

Nedeljkovic had another standout performance. Even though it was his third game in four nights, he gave the Griffins a chance by stopping 36 of the 38 shots he faced on Saturday.

looking ahead

After the three games, the Griffins are 13-17-2 on the season, but still sit at the bottom of the Central with 28 points, 18 behind the Stars. They are also just four back of the last playoff spot in the division.

They are set for a pair of home games on Wednesday and Friday against the team they are chasing for that final postseason berth, the Iowa Wild, the AHL affiliate of the Minnesota Wild. Iowa sits fifth in the week’s action, sitting 14 points behind Texas with a 14-14-4 record. The Griffins have won two of their first three meetings with Iowa this season, including a 6-2 victory on home ice on Dec. 7.

Grand Rapids will finish the weekend with a single game on Saturday against their old rivals, the Chicago Wolves, the main affiliate of the Carolina Hurricanes. The Wolves’ 12-16-4 record has them tied with the Griffins for last in the Central, with the two teams splitting their first pair of games last month in suburban Chicago.

Check out more Grand Rapids Griffins articles on MLive

FIRST SCHEDULE (Home Games in Bold)

Wednesday, January 11 vs. Iowa Wild (7 p.m. ET) Friday, Jan. 13 vs. Iowa Wild (7 p.m. ET) Saturday, January 14 vs.

You can watch and listen to the Griffins all season long on AHL.TV

Find AHL standings and results here

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