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The Lake Erie Monsters finished their season-long six-game road stretch with a 3-3-0-0 record after Wednesday's hard-fought 2-1 shootout win in Hamilton, and tonight the Monsters see another North Division foe for the first of two games in two nights as the Grand Rapids Griffins invade Quicken Loans Arena for the first time this season. The only other meeting this season between the two teams was a 3-0 Grand Rapids victory back on November 2 at Van Andel Arena.
The Monsters have been affected by call-ups over the last week, seeing leading scorer David van der Gulik, and centers Evan Brophey and Brad Malone summoned to the Colorado Avalanche. While there's no immediately known timetable for their stint with the big club, their departures have created both voids and opportunities in the Monsters lineup. Head coach David Quinn, prior to Wednesday's game in Hamilton, noted that it was discussed that his team should be excited for the chances that lie ahead, because certain players may get opportunities in situations they might not have with a full lineup.
Opportunities for players such as forwards Eric Lampe and Dean Strong, and defenseman Nick Tuzzolino. All three have been called upon by the Monsters from their different ECHL teams, and Lampe and Tuzzolino have already contributed regular minutes over the Monsters' last couple games. Lampe debuted Saturday night in Abbotsford with an assist, and Tuzzolino, a 6'5", 225-pound defenseman, wore the Monsters jersey for the first time on Wednesday in Hamilton.
As the season progresses, Ryan Stoa's responsibility is increasing. A season that has seen him become the Monsters' all-time goal scoring leader and second all-time leading points scorer- he tied former Monster Phil Dupuis with his 89th point on Wednesday- has also seen Stoa prove his value when he's contributing consistently. The Monsters are 8-2-0-0 when Stoa registers a point; proof that he truly is a difference-maker. With the Monsters trailing 1-0 and on a five-on-three power play in the final moments of Wednesday's second period in Hamilton, the Monsters were in a must-score situation. Stoa was the one who capitalized on a one-timer from the bottom of the right circle.
The Griffins have been affected almost as much as the Monsters, with two of their top-three scorers being promoted to the Detroit Red Wings in recent days. Chris Conner and Tomas Tatar have combined for 44 points this season. The team's leading scorer, Gustav Nyquist, has 27 points (9G, 18A) in 26 games, and remains with the Griffins. The former University of Maine standout has made his NHL debut with Detroit this season, and the rookie is certainly one of the bright young talents that fans will want to enjoy while he's here in the American Hockey League. At the same time, he is going to be a focal point of the Monsters defense.
Tonight marks the second game in a string of seven consecutive games against North Division opponents for the Monsters. In a division in which second place and fifth place are just three points apart entering Friday's action, there is a lot of movement that can take place in a short period of time. With the schedule being North-heavy for the Monsters for the remainder of the calendar year, there is a chance to make a serious statement in the Western Conference landscape.
Friday and Saturday night's action at Quicken Loans Arena begins at 7:30, and each game can be heard live on ESPN 850 WKNR. Saturday's game can also be seen live on WUAB-TV 43.
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