Detroit — Petr Mrazek made a big splash in the 2012 World Junior Championship in Canada with scintillating save after save, carrying the Czech Republic on his back through the qualifying rounds, including during a spectacular 52-save peformance to defeat the United States, 5-2.
But at the start of last NHL season, the Red Wings sent the brash, confident young goaltender not to Grand Rapids, their AHL affiliate, but to the Toledo Walleye of the ECHL.
Mrazek could have pouted.
Instead, he won.
It is among the reasons the Red Wings think they may have a budding star who will eventually back up Jimmy Howard, push him, a bit, and then make his own way in the NHL.
“When you see him come in through the training camp and through the conditioning and development camps in the summer, you get to know his personality and how unflappable he is,” Wings goaltending coach Jim Bedard said. “He’s really focused and he seems to be on the same wavelength all of the time, and he’s a very positive kid.
“But one thing I noticed is that he got sent to Toledo at the start of last year, and he didn’t take that as being a demotion of any sort.
“I think he was there about three or four games and then he moved up to Grand Rapids. And I always tell people, he won his first game and he won his last game.
“And I was at both of them, and it was amazing.”
Mrazek a winner
The first win inured his Griffins’ teammates to the thought that Mrazek could backstop them.
The last win clinched the Calder Cup, the AHL championship, for the first time in the history of the franchise.
On Wednesday, amid a series of defensive breakdowns by the Red Wings, some giveaways and little offense, Mrazek seemed to do what he could, but the Wings lost 5-1 to the Penguins.
This time, Mrazek could not quite carry his team.
But his performance did little to discourage the thought that someday he will.
When Mike Babcock talks about goalies, he sounds an awful lot like Jim Leyland talking about pitching: Who knows what the heck they do or how they get it done, leave that to their coaches. Just as long as they get it done.
So, what does Babcock like about Mrazek?
“Well, that he wins. That’s it.”
The sum of Mrazek’s winning and Jonas Gustavsson’s latest injury is a big chance, now, for Mrazek to show he belongs in the NHL.
And, in the long run, with Mrazek, 21, and Howard, 29, it sets up a number of possibilities for the Red Wings, including the fact that they just might be set in goal for a long time to come.
“I would love to step up and be better every year, and be ready for the NHL,” Mrazek said, of his expectations. “But we will see what happens.”
When he boasted to the media last season that he is never, ever nervous, let alone scared, Mrazek seemed a bit impetuous.
He now sounds more soberly confident.
“I know I (will) probably go down to the AHL when Gus will be healthy,” Mrazek said. “It’s important for me to play lots of games this year.”
Bedard knows the other Griffins can not wait to have him back.
“Just to be in the place where he put the team on his back and they trusted him,” Bedard said. “They knew what they were going to get on a night-in, night-out basis, and it was a great way to start a pro career.
“He’s a very unique personality, where he doesn’t come off as being cocky but he comes off as being very confident. And he just seems to go, and go, and go. And if something happens that is not favorable, he just pushes it off.”
On a tough night, he displayed fortitude.
As reporters gathered at his stall, Mrazek moved away to toss his sweaty socks in the laundry bin.
His mentor watched.
Eying the media and the young goalie, Howard joked, “Hey, where you going? You’ve got to sit here and take this.”
Mrazek’s expression said it all. It was unchanging.
He knew he needed to talk about a five-goal game. The reminder was unnecessary. But big brothers are like that sometimes.
“It wasn’t an easy night,” he said. “I felt good before the game, and during the game.
“I tried, but I didn’t stop (the puck). Nothing we can do about it right now,” he said, while vowing to study the video.
“But I have to stop more, next time.”