Strong with the Force

NMU newcomer Griffin Loughran set to bring success to Marquette

MARQUETTE — There’s several words that can describe Griffin Loughran.

Tenacious, spirited, scrappy and pesky are just a few that help paint a picture of the talented Fargo Force forward.

However, two words might be uttered fairly soon in Marquette and those are fan favorite.

After winning a USHL Clark Cup and playoff MVP honors with the Force last weekend, Loughran will be joining the Northern Michigan University hockey team this fall and Wildcats head coach Grant Potulny is confident fans will fall in love with his new winger pretty fast.

“According to his coaches, he is the most marked man in the US Hockey League,” Potulny said with a chuckle. “He’s the guy other people hate playing against. So he’s going to be a fan favorite here.”

How would Loughran describe his style of play? It’s simple. Trying to help his team in whatever way he can, whether it’s scoring a goal or simply annoying opposing players, even ones significantly larger than he is.

“I’m a little guy (he’s listed as 5-foot-6), but I don’t shy away from anyone,” Loughran said. “I’ll pick a fight with a guy who is 6-6, I don’t really care as long as I get some energy going for the guys and to get the bigger guys off their game. Once the puck is in the net, I’ll go by them and wave or smile or something just to get under their skin a little bit and help the team out as much as possible. That’s really my game.”

NMU assistant coach Byron Pool knows Loughran well after drafting him when he coached at Fargo and said he heard about him through a friend. Once he saw him, Pool liked him right away.

“I had a really good friend in the North American League South Division and he’s one of the head coaches,” Pool said. “The NA League is such a tough league to cover and our budgets are somewhat limited in the USHL as far as recruiting is concerned. So before every draft, I called him and we think a lot alike about how the game should be played. I usually asked him if you were in my shoes, who would you want and he said this kid in Corpus Christi (Texas). He’s not large in stature, but he absolutely drives our team nuts. I tell the team not to pay any attention to him and 10 minutes into the first period, I’m finding myself screaming at the guy. He’s just an agitator, but he can really play the game. He makes plays and he’s competitive. Not even seeing him play that much because once we did draft him, they were still in the playoffs, but not even knowing a lot about his hockey game, I just absolutely loved everything I was hearing about him.”

When asked to describe Loughran, Pool debated about what was the best way to do that, but he did say Loughran’s effort is impressive.

“I don’t want to characterize him as a yappy dog, but he is around your ankles and he is in your space all the time,” Pool said with a laugh. “For a guy inside the many puck battles he wins, that’s just phenomenal. Usually a knock on smaller guys is that they get knocked off the puck, but he is just a hound on pucks. In Fargo, he showed that in camp and then they brought everybody back for training camp and he showed that again. The biggest question we had is this guy going to be able to do this for a 60-game season. Not only did he do it for 60 games, but he did it for close to 15 in the playoffs. He’s just an every day, every rep type of guy. He just doesn’t have any quit in his game.”

A native of Buffalo (NY), Loughran grew up in a hockey family and things weren’t easy for him growing up a Buffalo Sabres and Buffalo Bills fan as both teams have struggled mightily the past two decades. However, that also might’ve shown him perseverance as he started off his pro career by playing for the USHL’s Youngstown (Ohio) Phantoms but ended up going down to Corpus Christi after only a few games. That might’ve stung some players, but Loughran feels like that was a good thing.

“So I got drafted by Youngstown and was there for half a year,” he said. “I was a young kid and wasn’t really ready yet. So I didn’t get a lot of ice time there, but I still learned a lot from all the guys trying to help me out and whatnot. I went down to Corpus to a little lower league and get a little more ice time and more experience. That was definitely a smart move because I was playing with some good guys and helped me mature as a player. That was probably one of the better moves I’ve made and then I was lucky enough to be drafted by Fargo.”

Fargo, a place that’s not well-known unless you’re a movie buff, but strangely, North Dakota ended up being the place where Loughran really showed what he could do on the ice.

“We were in the playoffs down in Corpus and I was looking at my phone after a pre-game nap and I saw Fargo,” Loughran said. “I was like ‘where the hell is Fargo?’ I’ve never heard of this place before besides the movie, but it’s been great and I’ve enjoyed every second I’ve been here.”

Griffin had 18 goals and 42 points in 50 regular season games with the Force and then exploded in the postseason with seven goals and 10 points in 13 games to lead Fargo to the Clark Cup.

“It was a good year for all of us,” he said. “The whole team is a bunch of second-chance guys. We worked hard the whole year and coach (Cary) Eades really pushed us and formed us into a good strong team. I played with some great players and it made my life a lot easier to give them the puck. They made me look pretty good.”

After hearing about Loughran from Pool, it didn’t take long for Potulny to notice the feisty forward after seeing him in person.

“We were at the Force camp last summer and he’s all energy all the time,” he said. “He’s all over the puck and he made plays. He scored a ton of goals and he probably missed as many as he scored, but he was the most noticeable guy at the camp. At that point, we decided that we have to come back and watch him again. So we drove to Minot to watch him play an exhibition game and he was really good in that game again. We were the only guys in the building and we decided at that point that he’s a guy that we need to have. He’s got so much energy. He’s always going to be around it and he’s so tenacious. He’s 5-6 or 5-7 and it doesn’t matter. He’s not afraid and he goes to all the hard areas all the time.”

As energetic or confident or whatever word you’d like to use to describe Loughran, he’s also quite humble and knows that he needs to put in his time if he wants to be in the same conversation as new teammates Adam Rockwood, Troy Loggins, Denver Pierce or Darien Craighead. However, he does feel that he’ll fit in well with the Wildcats’ up-tempo, fast-paced style of play and Potulny feels the same way.

“He plays with speed and energy,” Potulny said. “There are some guys that are goal scorers and there’s some guys who just make a ton of plays. Sometimes the guys that are goal scorers don’t always make the guys around them better, but the guys that make plays, they do make everybody else around them better players. Griff makes plays all over the rink. He always works and always skates. He’ll go to the area to score goals. There are guys who are 6-3 that you can’t get to go there. So it’s not a size thing, It’s a want thing or a will thing. His want and will are sky-high.”

Potulny says Loughran isn’t like any other player on his roster, but if Wildcats fans are looking for a good NHL comparison, he suggested Boston Bruins forward Brad Marchand, who has built up quite a reputation for, shall we say, getting into people’s heads, or on their faces.

At the same time though, Marchand isn’t just an annoying scrub. He’s also a two-time All-Star and a Stanley Cup Champion and is considered one of the best forwards in the league. Not surprisingly, on the Force’s website, Loughran said Marchand is his favorite player.

“He’s (Loughran) right on the edge,” Potulny said. “He’s in every skirmish. Because he’s such an emotional player, he’s learned that he needs to have the ability to play right to that edge, but just not go over it. Because he’s so emotional and he’s so involved, he’s all over the puck. He’s just a dog on a bone. Like I said, he’s going to be a fan favorite.”

Marked man. Yappy dog. Fan favorite.

The list continues to grow for Loughran and he’s just getting started here in Marquette.

Ryan Stieg can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 252. His email address is rstieg@miningjournal.net.