When the final exclamation point was put on the Calder Cup championship run of the Grand Rapids Griffins, emotions spilled over on the bench.
Third-year pro and East Greenbush native Brian Lashoff was there, fresh off his final shift of the summer on the blue line for the Griffins.
“I looked back, and Brad Thompson, we call him Dog, our equipment manager, he was crying on the bench. He’s been around for a long time, he’s been with the organization for a while. Just to see that, and then the coaches started letting it out,” Lashoff said. “You know when you see the coaches letting it out, you know it’s all right. It was an awesome feeling, and one I’ll never forget.”
Grand Rapids beat the Syracuse Crunch, 5-2, in Game 6 Tuesday to win the Calder Cup finals. Lashoff has been with the team, the AHL affiliate of the NHL’s Detroit Red Wings, for most of his pro career and in the Detroit system throughout.
In the finals, the Griffins were up against a Syracuse team populated by Tampa Bay Lightning prospects, many of whom were with Norfolk last season when the Admirals won the Cup. Grand Rapids came off a Game 7 win in the Western Conference finals against Oklahoma City, then rolled into Syracuse to win the first two games of the finals on the road.
The Griffins won Game 3 at home before dropping a pair of games to the Crunch in Grand Rapids.
Lashoff and his teammates owned a vulnerable 3-2 lead late in Game 6, when the Crunch pulled their goalie for the desperate final minute. The Griffins scored an empty-net goal with 48 seconds remaining, then added another with five seconds left.
Lashoff was on the ice for the first of those late goals.
“You could tell everybody’s emotions just went through the roof,” he said. “We were so pumped when it happened. You’re on the bench and you’re 50 seconds away from winning the whole thing. It’s a tough feeling to keep inside, so we were letting some emotion out on the bench. But we knew they had a great team over there, and we had to finish the last 50 seconds before we could start celebrating.”
It capped a memorable season for the younger brother of Matt Lashoff, who played for Zurich in the Swiss-A league this season after most recently being in the Toronto organization.
In January, Brian had been given a new contract with Detroit, another three-year deal, but this time a one-way contract that ensures him NHL pay all season and pretty much means he will be with the big club in the big league.
“I’ve had to work for everything I’ve done,” he said. “I wasn’t drafted, I was up and down, I went to the East Coast league my first year and had to battle to stay in the lineup. I’ve had injuries. I’ve battled through adversity, so to get to this point and have an organization like Detroit give me a chance when I was undrafted, to have that vote of confidence with a deal like that is amazing. It’s nice to know the hard work I put in is paying off.”
When the NHL lockout ended this season, Lashoff ended up making his NHL debut and stuck with the Red Wings, playing 31 games.
He was prepared, in part, for this experience when he was one of the club’s Black Aces — AHL players who stay on the ice after the AHL season and practice as reserves for the NHL club — the last two seasons. He was getting used to the Detroit coaches and players and traveling for road games.
He sat, though, much of the final month of the regular season, then played three games in the Red Wings’ first playoff series, against Anaheim.
After Game 5 of that series, he was reassigned to Grand Rapids, which was in the second round of the Calder Cup playoffs.
“Obviously, the NHL is where I want to be, and to get sent down is tough,” he said. “But you’ve got to be professional about it. It’s not like I was going into a complete emotional lull where the games meant nothing. I was stepping right into the second round of the playoffs in the American league. The pace was fast. It was perfect. Before I had played those games with Detroit in the playoffs, I had sat out for about a month, so I had that itch. I wanted to play, and it was nice to be able to get some games under my belt. Luckily, we kept it going, and I was able to get my confidence up when I went down.”
Now it’s time to rest and recover from the grind of the postseason. Playing deep into the playoffs, though, shortens that time off. Lashoff knows he’ll be back on the ice before too long, working to get back to the playoffs with Detroit to play for a different Cup.
“Right now, it’s nice to be able to relax and take a deep breath,” he said. “It’s been a great season, and it was the outcome of a lot of hard work that I put in. And now I have a lot of hard work to do to get ready for next year, because it’s going to be a short summer.”
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