DETROIT – Petr Mrazek’s journey to the NHL was a pretty quick one.
With backup goalie Jonas Gustavsson sidelined with a groin injury, Mrazek again finds himself as the Wings’ backup behind starting netminder Jimmy Howard.
“It’s a break, but you earn the right to get the break,” Wings coach Mike Babcock said after practice Tuesday. “He gets a chance, so do good with what you get and see what happens.”
Gustavsson is expected to miss three to four weeks.
“I think it’s a great opportunity for me,” Mrazek said. “We’ll see how the season starts and be there for the home opener probably. I’m really excited for that.”
Mrazek was also thrust into action last season because of another groin injury to Gustavsson and went 1-1-0 with a 2.02 goals-against average and a .922 save percentage over his first two NHL starts.
He then went back to Grand Rapids and led them to the Calder Cup.
“He wins, that’s it,” Babcock said. “He’s got to get stronger and as he gets stronger he’ll have better rebound control and better push. Those are all just part of growing up. The more time in pro hockey you settle down. I think he’s a real competitor and has a bright future.”
Mrazek will start Wednesday’s preseason game at home against the Pittsburgh Penguins.
With the Wings wanting to “over-ripen” their prospects, Mrazek has caught the attention of many in the organization.
“He’s a very unique personality, he doesn’t come off as being cocky but he comes off as being very confident,” Wings goalie coach Jim Bedard said. “As a goaltender you pretty much go through your whole life from the time you’re eight or nine years old with everyone telling you you’re not good enough at this, you can’t do that. If you keep listening to that little guy on your shoulder you’re not going to have a very long career at a high level. He just seems to go and go and go. If something happens that’s not favorable, he just pushes it off and it doesn’t seem to have a hangover effect, he goes right back in practice and attacks it. His demeanor doesn’t change, that’s what his teammates like to see every day.”
The Wings kept Howard in the minors until he ran out of options. He did play a total of nine games over three seasons with Detroit while in Grand Rapids.
Mrazek quickly leapfrogged every goalie in the Wings’ system to become the third in line for th starting job.
“I look back at the World Juniors, when he came out of nowhere,” Bedard said. “Obviously we knew who he is because we watched him on a daily basis when he was with the Ottawa 67s. On a stage as big as the World Juniors, being played in Canada he was such a big part of their team’s success. They basically rode him just like the Griffins rode him. He really got put on the map.
“It’s not a surprise for anybody that he is where he is,” Bedard continued. “He doesn’t look out of place one single bit. Every time I looked down the pucks were being stopped and the play kept moving. He’s got what you can’t teach and that’s a heck of a lot of talent and the right mix of confidence and swagger. He enjoys playing the game. Him and Howie both challenge each other in the drills after. At the end they give each other high fives. It reminds me of the same relationship Ozzie (Chris Osgood) had with Howie when he first came here. Until Gus gets healthy this is a great opportunity for him to get more days in the National Hockey League.”
Gustavsson pulled his groin after playing only 19 minutes of relief of Howard in the season opener last year.
“It’s tough to say how long it’s going to be,” Gustavsson said. “They took some pictures, but you never really know with groins how long it’s going to take, could be a few days or longer than that. You never know how quick they heal. I’m just going to do whatever I can to get back as soon as possible.”
Gustavsson, 28, appeared in just seven of the 48 games during the lockout-shortened year last season, making just four starts. He didn’t play over the final 27 games of the season, which included the playoffs.
“I want to be on the ice, I want to be out there, help the team,” Gustavsson said. “But that’s the way it goes. In your career you’re going to have some steps back, setbacks, you can’t be too low about that. Just got to do whatever you can to get back as soon as possible. That’s just the approach I have. I can’t get too down.”
“With groins, especially for a goalie, you got to be 100 percent,” Gustavsson added. “You use them a lot. If I was a defenseman or forward it would be something else because you don’t put as much pressure on it. That’s the tough part, to know exactly how long that’s going to take. That’s why I can’t give you a number or days or weeks I’ll be back. I’m just going to be positive and do everything I can to make it heal as quick as possible.”