GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — The Grand Rapids Griffins kicked off their season Friday night at Van Andel Arena. Thousands filled up the stands with anticipation and hope.

“Super excited. Can’t wait for the Griffins to go out there and kick some butt. I’m ecstatic right now,” said fan Avery Marzynski.

“It’s the best factor about living downtown, close to the Griffins,” said fan Brayden Kozeny, who walked to the game. “The physicality, the scoring. The fans love when they score, it’s electric. Everyone is really into it even though it’s AHL hockey minor leagues … everyone just gets excited and loves being here.”

The Griffins opened their season against the San Diego Gulls.

This year, there are new and old faces returning to the team. Six rookies join the roster, who were scouted and developed under Red Wings general manager Steve Yzerman’s regime. Griffins head coach Ben Simon returns for his fifth season. The team is looking to bounce back from a disappointing 2021-2022 season where the Griffins missed the playoffs.

“They’re going to win the Calder Cup this year,” said Kozeny.

Fans expressed not only their love for the Griffins, but also for the game.

“I like watching hockey. I like watching them hit each other around, score goals, make great defensive plays, the whole nine yards,” said Marzynski.

“You get to see the future of the Red Wings right up close in your hometown. It’s awesome!” Kozeny said.

Many families came out to Van Andel, bringing kids of all ages.

“Super excited. This is something my family and I enjoy every season. We buy a ten-game pack and look forward to it every month. Just competitiveness and good hockey and hopefully we get some wins and make the playoffs,” said fan Ward Sutton, who was there with his family.

A downtown construction project near Van Andel, at the intersection of Fulton Street and Market Avenue, was anticipated to bring some challenges to visitors who wanted to park near the arena to see the Griffins play. While there was some traffic downtown, most visitors said they had no problems getting into the game.

At the end of the night, the Gulls beat the Griffins 6-2.