September 20, 2010
by Sarah Lindenau - redwingcentral.com
After sitting out nearly 30 games during a horrendous American Hockey League rookie year, Jan Mursak was down but not out.
The 5-foot-11 right-winger returned with renewed vigor as a Grand Rapids Griffins sophomore in 2009-10, increasing his goal production by 1,100 percent and his point total by almost 400 percent.
He finished with 24 goals and 18 assists for 42 points through 79 games.
"My first year I was down on myself," said Mursak, who had two goals and seven assists in 51 games in 2009-10. "Last year I started on the fourth line and climbed my way up to the second line. All my shots went in and I was feeling really good on the ice and started to be confident. It was just amazing going from one season where I didn't play to playing a lot and scoring goals."
The Maribor, Slovenia native also represented his country in the IIHF Pool B world championship, collecting five goals and seven points in five games to lift his country into Pool A for 2011.
With a number of newcomers arriving in Grand Rapids this season, Mursak is expected to assume an even heavier load.
"This year is really important for me because it's my last year of a contract," he said. "I have to show what I can do and try to do my best. So in the off-season I had a private trainer who mixed the Detroit training plan with his plan. I think we did a really good job because I am feeling really good on the ice right now."
What makes this season that much more pivotal is the fact that Mursak is out of waiver options next fall. He'll be expected to increase his production and maybe get a few looks as a call-up to show he is ready for full-time NHL duty.
"Playing for the Red Wings would mean everything," he said. "When I was a young kid I always wanted to play in the NHL. I think my dreams would come true if that happens, but I am concentrating on the season in Grand Rapids first. I am sure if I play well there I will get a call up, but I don't want to think about that too much."
Team Lindsay defeated Team Howe 3-1 on Sunday with goals from Kirk Maltby, Sebastien Piche and Valterri Filppula. Jordan Owens scored his second goal in as many games for Team Howe.
Jimmy Howard took the loss in net for Team Howe with 17 saves, while Chris Osgood and Petr Mrazek split the goaltending duty for the victors.
Osgood stopped all 15 shots he faced.
Howard called the first two Team Lindsay goals "seeing-eye pucks."
Maltby, who signed a last-minute two-way contract and is battling for the final forward spot, was happy to energize Team Lindsay with the first goal of the game.
"You always want to play well regardless of your situation," Maltby said. "I am not going to surprise anyone by what I bring to the table. It's nice to not just contribute, but it kind of gives you a little momentum and a little confidence to just go out and play. We'll see how things go from here."
Maltby's play didn't go unnoticed.
"Good for him," said Red Wings head coach Mike Babcock. "He's just in a situation with his contract that he's got to win a job here. He got himself ready and is battling."
Maltby said his surgically repaired shoulder feels fine but that the play hasn't been overly physical yet.
Veteran forward Kris Draper remained off the ice with a strained groin, while prospect defenseman Brian Lashoff returned from a minor shoulder problem.
OSGOOD STARTS STRONG
Nobody could beat Osgood, who is looking to rebound after handing over the starting job to Jimmy Howard.
"I thought Ozzie had a good session," said Red Wings head coach Mike Babcock. "Good for him. Anytime you're a veteran player, I think it is important to get off to a good start. Obviously Ozzie committed this summer and I think that will show."
Howard was happy to see his veteran partner get off to a good start.
"We have a good solid competition and a great friendship," Howard said. "We want each other to do well. He had good scrimmage today and hopefully he can just build off of it."
The starting goaltending job is Jimmy Howard's to lose after finishing as a Calder Trophy nominee last season.
"I am not as nervous or as worked up as I used to be coming into camp," Howard said. "I was always thinking about what I had to do and everything like that. It is more now about getting myself ready. I know what I have to do and that's just work hard every single day."
Though he only had to stop four shots, recently-drafted Czech goaltender Petr Mrazek impressed his teammates with his timely saves and athletic ability.
"He's good," Howard said. "He's flying around out there because he's so quick. All the young goalies have been doing really well so far in camp. Kenny (Holland) loves his depth and they definitely have it at the goalie position now."
OWENS BRINGS ENERGY
Owens scored his second goal in as many days. The 6-foot, 180-pound forward was acquired last year for minor-leaguer Kris Newbury. The gritty forward sparked a struggling Grand Rapids team last season.
"He works hard and brings energy," Babcock said. "In Grand Rapids they really thought he helped change around their team when he got there last year. He'll be real good for us in Grand Rapids."
Retired forward Dallas Drake attended Sunday's practice session. The 41-year-old lives in Northern Michigan and a larger than life image of the gritty forward hoisting the Stanley Cup is painted in the front window of Center Ice Arena. Drake spent time after practice visiting his old teammates and coaches.
PYETT GAINS CONFIDENCE
Logan Pyett had a bounce back season with Grand Rapids in 2009-10, playing top-four minutes and piling up nine goals and 21 assists for 30 points.
"I made improvements on my rookie year," said Pyett, who had a disastrous AHL freshman campaign. "I was able to contribute a bit more and handle my ice time a bit better. I needed to improve my play in the defensive zone and that came with confidence."
With the likely departure of Jakub Kindl to Detroit, the 22-year-old will be asked to shoulder a heavier load on a blue line that could feature one or both of Derek Meech and Doug Janik and prospects Brendan Smith and Brian Lashoff, among others.
"There's other guys coming up who are certainly very skilled," Pyett said. "These guys are going to be pushing me and challenging me for ice time. I think it's going to be competitive and I will have to earn my ice time like I did last year."