For the first time in years, Van Andel Arena now has two full-time tenants.
The Grand Rapids Gold, the NBA G-League affiliate of the Denver Nuggets, announced it was making the move downtown after playing their first eight seasons at the DeltaPlex. The team will play at least the next five seasons in Van Andel Arena.
“We’ve kind of flirted with Van Andel for a couple of years, not knowing if the organization was quite ready,” Gold President Steve Jbara said. “The change in ownership at the DeltaPlex was the nudge we needed to dig in.”
This year, the team also welcomes a new head coach saying goodbye to former NBA player Jason Terry who is off to join the Utah Jazz coaching staff. Another former NBA guard, Andre Miller, will lead the Gold into the 2022-23 season. Miller played 17 years in with nine teams, including the Nuggets. He is the only NBA player to score 16,000 points, dish out 8,000 assists and tally 1,500 steals without an All-Star Game appearance.
Along with Terry, last year’s Gold roster featured stops by NBA journeymen like Isaiah Thomas and Lance Stephenson. Overall, it was an exciting basketball team, Jbara said.
The change in scenery could help the Grand Rapids G-League organization in one key area: walk up attendance. Jbara said the organization drew a solid regular attendance at the DeltaPlex, approximately 1,500 season ticket members or so, which settled in at about fifth in the league.
Walk up attendance, however, was dead last, he said. That can almost exclusively be attributed to the location of the team’s previous home off of Alpine Avenue in Walker.
“[The reception] has been fantastic,” Jbara said. “It’s helping draw the interest we were trying to get out there. Once we get you in, the basketball is so good, we got you. That’s why I’m so excited about downtown because it will help people get there. That’s the biggest thing about moving downtown, the access to people.”
While the Gold will be getting used to a new home and boss this year, the Grand Rapids Griffins could be chasing their third AHL title now that Detroit Red Wings General Manager Steve Yzerman is seeing his plan come together with the parent club.
Griffins President Tim Gortsema said Yzerman was more aggressive than expected in free agency during the offseason, which means more NHL caliber talent could be honing their skills in Grand Rapids.
“The team, from what I’m hearing, is going to be much better,” Gortsema said in September. “It’s two-fold, it’s the evolution of draft picks in recent years, the process from when they go from drafted to ready to play in this league, those quality picks and hopefully future NHL stars will be on ice.
“The other thing is I thought Detroit was more aggressive in free agency, and because of that up top, it makes them a deeper team and that will help us as potential bubble players are up and down to Grand Rapids.”
The Griffins have fifth-year head coach Ben Simon behind the bench.
But as the Griffins are looking to compete again — they finished last in the Central Division last year — they’ll be getting used to sharing Van Andel Arena.
“It’s great for the Gold to be downtown, good for the marketplace to have another tenant,” Gortsema said. “When we were a single tenant, you kind of expand to available space, even the locker room, we utilized some of that extra space to transition to be changing room area. And certainly, with them being here, it’s more events, more times we won’t be able to practice here because the court is down or games happening. In that respect we’ll lean more heavily to Griff’s Icehouse vs. being here.
“It will be a little more jockeying around to accommodate their 28 home dates.”
For both teams, they’ll be entering the first full season completely free of COVID-19 restrictions. The Gold have only played one season since 2020, opting out of the 2020-2021 one-site season in the G-League.
For the Griffins, the biggest improvement will be the ability for the players to integrate into the West Michigan community for the first time in two-and-half years, Gortsema said. Those include autograph sessions, anthems on the ice, player visits to schools, hospitals and youth hockey practices.
Gortsema even said that the Grand Rapid business staff can interact more with the hockey operations staff from Detroit, a luxury in the past, as it turns out.
“We’re going to be able to do things we haven’t been able to in several years,” he said. “Just to better connect our players in the community, that’s been sorely missed. We’re AAA hockey, but one of the things we offer that fans don’t get at the next level is that close connection to players.”
Gold Home Dates
Nov. 10 vs. Motor City Cruise
Nov. 13 vs. Cleveland Charge
Nov. 15 vs. Clevaland Charge
Nov. 27 vs. Iowa Wolves
Nov. 29 vs. Wisconsin Herd
Nov. 30 vs. Wisconsin Herd
Dec. 12 vs. Sioux Falls Skyforce
Dec. 14 vs. Sioux Falls Skyforce
Jan. 2 vs. Delaware Blue Coats
Jan. 3 vs. Delaware Blue Coats
Jan. 5 vs. Fort Wayne Mad Ants
Jan. 8 vs. Maine Celtics
Jan 10. vs. Maine Celtics
Jan 20. vs. Capital City Go-Go
Feb. 8 vs. Stockton Kings
Feb. 9 vs. Stockton Kings
Feb. 13 vs. Windy City Bulls
Feb. 14 vs. Windy City Bulls
Feb. 23 vs. Capital City Go-Go
Feb. 26 vs. Fort Wayne Mad Ants
March 2 vs. Motor City Cruise
March 7 vs. Ontario Clippers
March 12 vs. Raptors 905
March 14 vs. Raptors 905
Griffins Home Dates
Nov. 11 vs. Toronto Marlies
Nov. 12 vs. Toronto Marlies
Nov. 16 vs. Rockford IceHogs
Nov. 25 vs. Manitoba Moose
Nov. 26 vs. Manitoba Moose
Dec. 2 vs. Texas Stars
Dec. 3 vs. Texas Stars
Dec. 7 vs. Iowa Wild
Dec. 16 vs. Hartford Wolf Pack
Dec. 23 vs. Cleveland Monsters
Dec. 31 vs. Milwaukee Admirals
Jan. 6 vs. Texas Stars
Jan. 7 vs. Texas Stars
Jan. 11 vs. Iowa Wild
Jan. 13 vs. Iowa Wild
Jan. 14 vs. Chicago Wolves
Jan. 21 vs. Springfield Thunderbirds
Feb. 10 vs. Manitoba Moose
Feb. 11 vs. Manitoba Moose
Feb. 15 vs. Rockford IceHogs
Feb. 17 vs. Cleveland Monsters
Feb. 24 vs. Chicago Wolves
Feb. 25 vs. Cleveland Monsters
March 1 vs. Chicago Wolves
March 3 vs. Iowa Wild
Mach 4 vs. Iowa Wild
March 10 vs. Rockford IceHogs
March 11 vs. Cleveland Monsters
March 19 vs. Milwaukee Admirals
March 22 vs. Chicago Wolves
March 29 vs. Chicago Wolves
March 31 vs. Milwaukee Admirals
April 14 vs. Rockford IceHogs