A scorer and a pest: Griffin Loughran relishes his dual roles with Wildcats’ hockey team
The Northern Michigan University junior hockey player is one of the best forwards in the WCHA and arguably, all of college hockey.
At the same time, if you did a poll of opposing teams and fan bases, he’s probably the most disliked one.
Some players may not be happy with that second one, but the junior enjoys both roles he plays for the Wildcats and does it with a smile on his face.
Loughran says he knows he should cut down on the “yapping,” as he calls it, but he also knows it has an effect when needed.
“I embrace that role greatly,” he said. “If you don’t like me and you’re focused on me the whole time, then I’m doing my job and giving other teammates an opportunity to take the weight there.
“It’s kind of what I’m here for. If I’m getting under people’s skin, and if I draw a penalty on them, and we can go on the power play, that’s two minutes of offensive opportunity that our team has to get us a key goal or give us a little more insurance. So that’s a huge staple of my game.”
This shouldn’t surprise anyone considering his favorite NHL player is Boston Bruins star Brad Marchand, who is loved by some and hated by many hockey fans.
“He’s my favorite because he does all the things that I like to do,” Loughran said. “He puts up a lot of points, there’s no discrepancy in that. First line guy, good leader. Sometimes, he goes a little bit over the line, which he knows, too.
“He took some shots when he was a little younger in his career. So he kind of proved himself that if you mess with me, you’re not going to like what you get back. I think I’ve done it the first two years and now it’s kind of time to just focus on offensive and defensive game and kind of stay out of the other crap.”
Loughran is quite effective in his role, aggravating his opponents so much that he routinely draws opponents to retaliate for his frequent chirping.
When asked if he goes after the best players, Loughran said it depends.
“Obviously, the more talented guys are kind of going to know (me) better,” he said. “They’re going to want to stick to their skill game. So if I can just give them one shift and just get in their kitchen a little bit and play the body hard, then I’ll kind of like have them thinking in the back of their head, ‘Oh, he’s going to come back and hit me again.’
“Not a lot of those skill guys like to get hit, so if you can just put the body in them and let them know you’re coming back again, they’re going to get off their game.”
However, sometimes Loughran ends up in the penalty box himself. He was second in the nation last year in penalty minutes behind teammate Hank Sorensen. When asked about the penalties, Loughran said he’s going to cut down on them this season.
“That’s definitely going to be a drastic change this year,” he said. “You gotta stay away from all those stick penalties. That’s going to change for sure. If you get a roughing penalty, or a charge when you’re finishing a hit, and you’re just playing hard, (NMU head coach) Grant (Potulny) can live with those.
“But it’s the stick penalties, the tripping, slashing, those are what come back to hurt you and that’s what’s going to hurt the team. So stay clear of those and definitely bring that number way down this year.”
Potulny is also hoping that Loughran will cut down on the penalty minutes as they obviously can negatively affect the team. However, he also sees the value of Loughran saying that he knows how much a pest can disrupt another team’s focus.
“Here’s an analogy for you, when I was at Minnesota (as an assistant coach), North Dakota always had tough, hard teams and there was a few players on their team that would go after our best guys after the whistle,” Potulny said. “Whether I was a player or a coach … it was a brilliant strategy because the real good player on our team would get into a shoving match with the guy on the other team.
“And North Dakota had tons of really good players and it was a brilliant move. But what would happen is one of their guys that might be lower on their depth chart would go to the penalty box with our first line center. So now you go to four-on-four hockey and (New York Islanders forward) Brock Nelson comes over the boards and we got (Minnesota Wild forward) Nick Bjugstad in the penalty box.”
Loughran being a pest may be a perk for Northern, but a bigger one is his offensive talent. He led the conference in scoring with 32 points (39 points overall) and tied for second in the country in goals with 23. He made the All-WCHA Second Team and picked up his first career hat trick in a game against Ferris State with Loughran picking up the game-winner in the final two minutes.
When asked if he changed anything before that season, Loughran said no and he just took advantage of the opportunity he had in front of him.
“It’s just all about that experience,” he said. “Our top line moved out, that (Troy) Loggins, (Adam) Rockwood, (Denver) Pierce line. They moved on, so someone had to step up.
“There was an opportunity for me and my teammates to do that. So we kind of took that and ran with it. Just found our groove and just never looked back.”
Potulny praised Loughran for his breakout season and said he’s showing that he can be even better.
“I think the maturity that he has and that he’s developed from the last game of the season last year to this point is monumental,” Potulny said. “I thought there’s a big jump in his freshman year, but not to this point. He is becoming a leader. You talk about your captains and stuff like that, and I think people see Griff on the ice and they see how hard he plays and some of that stuff, but he’s a 4.0 (grade-point average) student. You could put him into any room with a toddler or with the president of the university and they would walk away impressed with him.
“I don’t know that he let all that out as much as maybe we would’ve hoped his first couple years, but he has in practice. Kind of the way we have split it up, we started with three groups and then we got to two groups and at some point, we’re going to get to one group.
“He was in a group with, and still is, with a bunch of these freshmen. Just the encouragement he gives them and the positivity he shares. How he goes about his business in practice. Every day, he just works and competes. That maturity wasn’t always there with him. I think you saw it over stretches, but I definitely saw it last year with the way that he produced and all those things.
“Obviously, he’s always been a very talented player, but just the growth that he’s had as a person, it’s been so fun to watch.”
Loughran isn’t just a goal scorer or a skater who rattles opponents. He’s also a fan favorite, especially among kids. That’s another role that he enjoys as he enjoyed talking to older players when he was growing up.
“I think the littler kids around Marquette look up to me because I’m kind of a smaller guy, so they can kind of relate a little bit,” he said. “Just helping them out and trying to push them to get on the ice and to keep doing what they’re doing hockey-wise. A super important part of being a hockey player is giving back to the community.”
Loughran is also trying to become more of a leader in the locker room, which will be important as NMU has another young team this year. He wants to play an active role in helping the program, while also just setting a good example.
“I think a little bit of both,” he said. “Obviously, if you work hard on the ice, shift in and shift out, guys are going to do the same thing. They’re going to want to work just as hard as you to like keep up the energy on all four lines.
“And then at the same time, I’m a very vocal guy. Even as a freshman, I was always talking. So that won’t change at all. If guys aren’t doing something, I’ll just pull them aside and say like ‘Hey c’mon, you’re better than that’ and ‘You know you can do better’ and ‘Let’s get going here.’
“Just like all those positive little things you can say to people to really get them going is going to be key.”
Northern became notorious last year for starting games off slowly and having to play from behind. The ‘Cats had mixed results with that and Loughran knows that has to change.
“I think our biggest thing is that we weren’t starting on time,” he said. “We always had great finishes to games, but we got behind pretty quick. So it’s coming out with that jam and that energy really early on and just sticking with that for a full 60 minutes. I don’t think there’s going to be many teams around the whole nation that are going to be able to keep up with us this year.”
So who is the real Loughran? Again, it depends on who you ask. One thing is for sure, though, and that is he’s going to do anything he can to help the Wildcats succeed.
Ryan Stieg can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 252. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.