Tue Sep 06 03:43pm EDT
Ottawa 67's star goaltender Petr Mrazek didn't need to spend as much time at home in Ostrava, Czech Republic, as he did after his first season in Canada.
That might be a sign of how Mrazek, 19, who might be the Ontario Hockey League's best goalie, has come of age and why the Detroit Red Wings got a potential steal when they selected him 141st overall in 2010. Mrazek, on his best days, is enough of a treat to watch that 67's owner Jeff Hunt might worry about a drop-off in concession sales at the Ottawa Civic Centre because his goalie's show-stopping saves are sweeter than any of the goodies on sale. On top of that, Mrazek has absorbed that a goalie has to be the most upbeat person
in an OHL team's dressing room — roll with the punches on the ice, upbeat off it, because if the player with the highest-pressure job isn't unnerved, how can anyone else be?
"I don't want to say I don't care if I win or I lose, but if somebody scores on me, you're not going to see anything [emotion] from me," says Mrazek. "I'm really like calmed down in the net, I want to be funny guy in the dressing room and be smiling, but when I'm on the ice, I don't want to be mad."
"I know there's the next game," adds the netminder, who's coming off an age-18 season where he posted a 2.84 goals-against average and OHL-best .920 save percentage in 52 games. "You can ask [coach-GM Chris] Byrne, ask [goaltending coach] Tom [Dempsey], I'm always smiling."
Mrazek's name might not always pop up right away in debates about the OHL's best goalie. It's probably a safe assumptio that the OHL Goaltender of the Year Award is Mark Visentin's to lose. The Niagara IceDogs star, on top of being a talent in his own right, has the cachet of having won last season and the name recognition that comes with being on Team Canada. Mrazek, who's been barred from international play due to a dispute between his former Czech team, HC Vitkovice, and his country's hockey federation, doesn't have the latter luxury. By the way, no import has ever been named the OHL's top goalie.
"Absolutely, I project him to play in the NHL some day," 67's goaltending coach Tom Dempsey says. "I'm not an expert, but I worked with Marc-Andre Fleury and I could see he was absolutely bona fide NHL quality at age 18. I see Petr with the same qualities. He's a potential NHL goaltender.
"Petr is very strong kid mentally," Dempsey adds. "It's like if he has a bad game, the next game he's going to be sharp. If he lets in two bad goals in period No. 1, you can expect him to be strong in periods two and three, he's going to battle back."
The 67's, in what is a team-wide sore spot and a storyline for the coming season, saw their past season cut short by a wave of injuries that contributed to a 4-0 first-round sweep against the Sudbury Wolves. That early exit might have kept Mrazek from getting more attention in junior hockey circles, but it gave him the chance to make his AHL debut with the Red Wings' affiliate, the Grand Rapid Griffins.
"It was a great experience," he says. "They were telling me, 'too bad you're not a '91 [birthdate] so you can play here this year.' But I'm happy in Ottawa."
Mrazek was at an impressionable age when countryman Dominik Hasek backed the Czech Republic to an Olympic gold medal and world championships in the '90s. It is worth noting that the Canadian Hockey League has a handful of Czech goalies, including Vancouver Canucks third-round choice David Honzik with the Victoriaville Tigres and two newcomers in the QMJHL and WHL, the Moncton Wildcats' Roman Will and Red Deer Rebels' Patrik Bartosak. It would be cliché to say he was directed by The Dominator. The young Mrazek became a goalie out of practicality.
"My dad [Karel Mrazek] was a professional soccer player and he always had injuries and stuff," Mrazek says. "I like soccer, but I saw guys who were playing hockey on the lakes and from the first time I saw it, I wanted to be in the net. That was my dream to be there and once I started there I was always a goalie."
Even with last season cut short, Mrazek spent less of his summer in Ostrava — where he has a training partner handy since his sister dates Jakub Stepanek, a goalie for St. Petersburg SKA in the KHL — than he did in 2010. Between he and his mother, Lenka, taking a trip to Dubai and attending the Red Wings prospect development camp, it was a pretty busy few months.
Now refreshed by that, Mrazek is set on having a good final season in Ottawa and signing with the Red Wings before next June. From all accounts, he's accepted missing out on the world junior hockey championship — as Dempsey puts it, "He's being held hostage and there's nothing he can do" — with grace and maturity. As he tells it, Mrazek's turned that into a positive. If he can't represent the Czech Republic in Alberta come the holiday season, he'll just take the chance to see another new corner of the world.
"I probably won't go back for Christmas this year," Mrazek explains. "Last year we had major snow in Europe, so I was there just three days before I had to come back here. I think this year I'll go with friends, take a holiday, go someplace warm."
"Last year, when I was here, I had two shutouts [for Ottawa while the world junior was taking place]," he adds, smiling. "If I could do that again, that would be good."
Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports . Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet (photo: CHL Images).