On Thursday, April 1, the Chicago Wolves announced Carolina Hurricanes goaltender Petr Mrazek would be starting between the pipes on a rehab assignment against the Grand Rapids Griffins. No, this wasn’t an April Fools Day joke. After eight weeks of not playing due to an injury, Mrazek was back on the ice.
Conversations surrounding when Mrazek might see the ice during a game began on March 27. “I talked with our general manager and our goalie coach on Saturday,” said Mrazek, “We had a chat about how the hand is and, if it’s going to feel better during the week, that I would come play Thursday here.” After the first two practices of the week, Mrazek felt confident enough to play on April 1 in Chicago.
Mrazek’s confidence allowed him to stop 43 of the 45 shots the Griffins threw on net with ease. In fact, he was quite pleased with the fact there were an abundance of shots to be swatted away. “I don’t think there’s anything better than facing 45 shots,” said Mrazek, “So, that’s a good conditioning game.” Although, the shooting in the second period was a little, you could say, aggressive as the Griffins fired off 23 registered shots on goal. “They were coming from everywhere. I felt pretty tired after the second,” Mrazek said of the high level of shots he faced in period two.
From a Wolves standpoint, Mrazek didn’t struggle to fit in with the team. He and the defense worked in tandem throughout the game. They communicated well and worked together to keep plays moving in their favor. According to Mrazek, the ability to gel well with the team on the fly stems from the professionalism of his teammates. “Everyone is professional here. I think we adjusted to that pretty quick and really well,” explained Mrazek. “Guys call for the pucks when they needed it, and that was the key.”
Mrazek was caught a little off guard by the fact he didn’t know a single player on the Griffins. “I don’t think I know one guy on the team,” said Mrazek, “It was a little bit special because you don’t see it much often.” When a goaltender knows the minutiae details of an opponent, they can sense things like when they are going to one time a shot or when they are going to cut to the other side of the net. Not knowing the details of how the Griffins played provided a bit of a challenge for Mrazek in his debut. However, it was a challenge he embraced with excellent poise and confidence.
Another thing which surprised him was the amount of traffic that ends up in front of the net at the AHL level. “I was very surprised with that. I feel in the NHL there is a little less traffic,” said Mrazek, “Here, everyone with the puck crash the net and try to create rebounds.” As shocking as it was to have an abundance of players rushing the net, Mrazek noted those kinds of plays help you figure out if you’re ready or not to continue playing after an injury.
Mrazek enjoyed his time back on the ice, but misses the energy the fans bring to the game. “I miss fans so much,” said Mrazek, “They (games) are way more fun, more energy on the ice.”