The Goalie Guild

Petr Mrazek: Tigr Tigr Burning Bright

They say goalies should always be cool, calm and collected.

They say goalies should always be the most composed and stoic players on the ice, too. No egregious celebrating, no display of emotion when giving up a goal, winning a game, or when their team scores.

They say goalies should essentially move, think and look exactly the same, no matter what is happening, all the time.

When I hear people say these things, I tend to worry.


Please view my Periodic Table of Goaltending Elements to break down Petr’s official Element Map

I worry because I don’t want young goalies to become drab athletes, with blank-eye stares in the face of adversity and pressure. I don’t want goalies to lose a certain type of natural athleticism or competitive instinct, and I certainly don’t want goalies to rely solely on the economy of movement.

Fortunately, Petr Mrazek is none of the things I really worry about.

When searching for the perfect prospect, I want one that is truly balanced. I want them to display both reflex-based and positionally-based save selections. I want one that knows when to challenge a shooter, and when to stay a little deeper. I want one that can move well on his skates and on his knees, and one that can stop pucks in a myriad of ways, without second-guessing their decisions, or having to default to one specific method.

Ultimately, I want a shape-shifter; a goalie that can adapt on the fly to the game around them. For the more tools a prospect has at their disposal, the more likely they are to build a stronger foundation for a more successful future.

Yet I talk to many goalie coaches today, and I walk away thinking that over-reacting, or relying too much on reflexes is some kind of mortal sin, a hellacious act of true horror. Some goalies even become paralyzed by this concern of erroneous movement, and they over-think their game way too much. They inevitably start to lock up, they hesitate far too often, and they never look fully comfortable over the course of a game.

When I watch Mrazek play, however, I notice he not only exists outside of this robotic planet, he lives in a completely different universe. But here he is and there he goes, as one of the world’s most talented 20-year-old junior goalies.

JG: What is your spirit animal? If I had to guess, I would say…the Wolf. Am I right?

PM: “The Tiger for sure. Tigers are my favorite animal, they are beautiful. I absolutely love them. Wolf was close, but I like the Tiger more.”

JG: What did you take away from your 2012 World Junior Championships experience?

PM: “It opened my eyes for pro hockey. It showed me I was capable of playing with great players and higher expectations.” 

JG: I ask every goalie I interview this same question – how would you define Mental Toughness?

PM: “Every goalie needs to be mentally tough. You have to be ready every game to be strong, to face the shots, and stop the pucks. If you let in a soft goal, or bad deflection, you have to forget about it right away. If you’re always thinking about that bad goal throughout the rest of the game you won’t be able to focus on the next shots thrown at you. You have to remain confident and strong in yourself and be able to forget and move on fast.”

[ PART TWO ]

Selected 141st overall by Detroit in the 2010 NHL Entry Draft, Mrazek is not the traditional mold of a Red Wings goalie prospect. He’s not a quiet competitor like Chris Osgood, and he’s not the “slow-cooked” collegiate talent like Jimmy Howard. He’s nowhere close to a Tom McCollum or a Jordan Pearce, either.

In fact, once you get to know him better off the ice, he’s not like most goalie prospects playing in the CHL these days.

For starters, he’s not superstitious at all.

I personally think most goalies have superstitions, or are more superstitious than others, because they struggle to cope with elements of the position that they cannot control. They are haunted by bad bounces, scared of getting stuck in a bad rhythm, or are afraid to experience unfair situations that can result in gut-wrenching losses. They try to avoid being victimized by these bad circumstances by going through a regimen of superstitions and quirks before games. They’re attempting to control the uncontrollable and inescapable forces that rule over every single goaltender.

Because of this, sometimes you can’t talk to a goalie before a game, mainly because their nerves force them to act awkwardly in social or otherwise everyday team-related situations. They often won’t speak to the media, they won’t speak to their girlfriends or parents, and they won’t speak to anyone but themselves. They just want to be left alone.

But not Petr.

Like any other player on his team, he simply laces up the skates, tosses on the gear, goes out there and plays. The external forces he can’t control are ignored, and while many goalies might get distracted when they are not isolated, Mrazek seems to know how to turn that focus switch on and off, regardless of his surroundings or atmosphere.

So from what I’ve learned, Petr is just another one of the boys. He has a lively personality, he’s fun-loving and easy to talk to, and because of these traits, assimilating himself into the Canadian junior hockey culture came easily and naturally. That’s a true sign of a goalie destined to increase their potential exponentially, something we have witnessed first-hand during his time with the Ottawa 67’s.

It takes a certain type of goalie and athlete to make the transition to North America smoothly, and despite the unique traits that make him so different on the ice, Petr is clearly that type of goalie.

JG: When I watch you play, I see a few shades of your countryman, Ondrej Pavelec. Has anyone told you this before?

PM: “You’re the first one to tell me that I play similar to Pavelec. The goalie coach here in Ottawa told me I play similar to Marc-Andre Fleury.”

JG: Music is a motivational element that influences many goalies. Is it a passion of yours?

PM: “Before the games, we always have music playing in the dressing room. But I don’t really listen any more than any other guy on the team. I love music, but no more than the rest.”

JG: Another question I always ask goalies is about the edges on their skates. What edge do you have, and is there anything else unique about your pad setup? 

PM: “I have a three-quarters (3/4) edge on the skates. I am wearing 36+2 sized Vaughn pads. The padding on the side of the knee [on the inside] I like thinner than normal. Other than that, I don’t really have anything special done to them.”

[ PART THREE ]

Clearly, Mrazek plays a style that is unlike today’s more robotic butterfly goaltender, and his personality is just as dynamic. But he’s still extremely successful on the ice, especially since the World Juniors ended back in January. In my eyes, this reveals an irony that can’t be overlooked.

Many goalie coaches (and scouts) want to see prospects break the mold of the cookie-cutter, butterfly-dominant goaltender. Yet when a goalie’s personality and flashy on-ice style reflects true individuality, they are often instructed, taught, or advised to be less unique, and to be more like the typical or traditionally molded goaltender.

Mrazek’s bold celebrations in the World Juniors helped him gain somewhat of a cult fan following, and even though he remains confident and successful displaying these traits, many were led to believe he may have crossed a line or a certain threshold that will inevitably make him less successful as time goes on.

As time goes on, for many different reasons, sometimes those unique traits are taught out of a goaltender, and their true essence starts to withers away. This can result in a goaltender never reaching their true potential; they are held back in different ways, and they ultimate underachieve at the higher levels.

Fortunately, with guidance from his parents, his long-time goalie coach in the Czech Republic, and now his goalie coaches in Ottawa and Detroit, Mrazek’s unique traits remain visible keys to his success over the past two years.

As a result, he’s a stronger goaltender than ever before, leading me to believe that the most important personality trait Mrazek needs to focus on as he turns pro is his patience. If he can be patient with his development, he will have plenty of chances to unlock a very fruitful NHL career.

It’s not easy to be patient, however, especially since Mrazek has such a high level of confidence in his abilities.

But as a scout, I’ve read, seen, listened to so many tales of success, failure, adversity, and everything between. I’ve learned that it’s a poor human fate for those that fail to achieve their true destiny because they simply don’t work hard enough, don’t have enough size, don’t get enough opportunities, or don’t make the right saves at the right times.

Sometimes they have no control, which is a tough pill to swallow, and sometimes the goalie simply doesn’t have his head in the right place, they lack a certain type of awareness, and they fall apart or disappear into obscurity.

JG: Many scouts know that the Red Wings develop their goalies very slowly. Are you willing to be patient in this process?

PM: “Yes, I want to be patient. I am so lucky that Detroit drafted me. They are one of the top teams in the NHL and have been [for a long time]. I think I have a good opportunity with them to do well.”

JG: I’m always curious how NHL goalie coaches interact with their prospects. Were you in touch with Chris Osgood and Jim Bedard this season? If so, have they discussed your future?

PM: “I speak with both Osgood and Bedard almost every week. For after the season, we will see how long the playoffs for the 67s go. If my team in Ottawa does not go far in the playoffs, I was told I will go to Grand Rapids to get a feel of AHL hockey if it is possible. And to help be ready for next year.”

[Mrazek went quite far in the OHL playoffs before falling to Niagara, so he never had the chance to join the Grand Rapids Griffins. But because Ondrej Pavelec did not join the Czech Republic for the World Championships, Mrazek was invited instead, and now he’s currently backing up Jakub Kovar and Jakub Stepanek.]

[ PART FOUR ]

So in order to grow into a fruitful NHL goaltender, I think years of strict butterfly training and weight lifting cannot act as the sole solution. It is obviously quite necessary, but at some point, Mrazek (and every junior goaltender with potential) must look in the mirror and reflect on who they are, what they are becoming, and where they are going.

If and when Mrazek does look in the mirror, I naturally wonder what he sees.

Does he see a king dressed in gold? I hope not; success does not fall into one’s lap, and no goaltender is chosen at birth to become kings of all creases. Does he see a medieval knight in shining armor? I hope not; some wars are not meant to be waged, and no goalie is more noble than the cause or team he fights for.

Or does Mrazek look in the mirror and see a man holding a rusted chainsaw, trudging through the forest with sweat dripping from every pore? An unyielding work ethic; now there’s a trait that every goaltender truly needs to succeed.

Especially after I watched his performances in the 2012 World Junior Championships, as a goalie scout, I am very intrigued and excited for Mrazek’s development, and for so many reasons. He’s dynamic, athletic, visibly confident, flashy, bold and assertive. He’s quick, instinctual, cerebral, and tracks pucks very well. He has all the style points you want in a future NHL goaltender, and he has solid size at 6-foot-2 and 185 pounds.

But like so many goalies before him, in order for all of those positive elements to bind together in harmonic puck-stopping purity, Petr must realize that work ethic is the vital force that powers his natural evolution.

Aside from skill and opportunity, a goaltender with Mrazek’s unique potential can only transform into an NHL starter if he is never fully satisfied with his past achievements. So, for as much as Mrazek has accomplished this season, both with the 67’s and the Czech Republic, I hope he realizes that he hasn’t really accomplished anything at all.

JG: What is one of your most important motivational quotes?

PM: “My motivational quote is, ‘Remain firmly grounded’ and personal motto wise, I like to tell myself to “always try to work as hard as you can.”

JG: What important life lessons did your parents teach you before coming over to North America?

PM: “The most important thing my father taught me is that, if you are winning, everybody loves you. But when you start losing, you still have to be the same guy. He says all the time you need to be the same guy, never get a big head or be cocky. My mother says to be healthy. If you want to be in top form, you need to take care of yourself and your body.” 

JG: All goalies are extensions and pieces of their goalie coaches and goalie idols. Is there one coach that has truly influenced the way you play the position?

PM: “Definitely. I have one coach back in Czech, named Petr Bolek, I have been working with him for over 10 years. I wouldn’t be where I am now in my playing career if it weren’t for him, and I can’t thank him enough for that. I also have Tom Dempsey here in Ottawa with the 67’s. He helped me adjust to the Canadian way of hockey right from when I got here three years ago. I know that Chris Osgood and Jim Bedard will help me greatly with getting into the higher levels of hockey.”

[ PART FIVE ]

Ultimately, I feel as if it is my duty as an independent scout to reinforce the notion that very few prospects truly reach their NHL upside. It’s one thing to have that potential, but due to so many obstacles, it’s quite another to utilize and harvest it to perfection. Many goalies simply don’t have that perfect balance a guy like me is searching for.

Therefore, I have to wonder if he’s a hidden star that has already exploded, and if now he’s likely to cool down, and slowly fade away into the darkness of the minor leagues. That is my job, and that is what I am paid to do.

If I trust my scouting instincts, however, I truly believe it when I say that, despite being a man of mystery, and despite playing with a raw and terminal intensity, Mrazek is going to be a real good NHL goaltender someday. He might cross boundaries, and he might raise red flags, but there is no denying that Detroit has a real hidden gem in their system.

From what I’ve learned about the successful pro goaltender, I know that the ones that always play their natural style usually end up shining the brightest. There are always technical and tactical areas to improve and refine, but the essence of an elite athlete’s game cannot be removed, even if it is not always the right elements on display.

If Mrazek is naturally bold and assertive and dynamic and aggressive, those pieces of his character and his game must always remain. They are what make him unique, and they are the constants in an ever-changing dynamic entity.

I also know that the only truth a goalie experiences over the course of their junior career is the one in their hearts.

Nobody knows what type of path they travel. Nobody knows what type of emotional and mental adversity they face. Nobody knows what they go through on or off the ice. They have to travel this path alone, and aside from their mentors and their closest relatives, they have to find ways to learn for themselves what they need to do to improve as both a goaltender and a human being.

Every goalie is different, every goalie is unique, every path has different twists and turns and obstacles. But at the end, a personal faith and a strong character goes well beyond a quick glove hand or solid rebound control.

And if you look at today’s stars, including Pekka Rinne, Jonas Hiller, Tim Thomas, Carey Price, Henrik Lundqvist, Jonathan Quick, and all of the rest of the finest goalies in the NHL right now, it is their ability to embrace and hone and enhance their unique differences that make them so successful.

As long as Mrazek embraces his differences, and as long as he continues to improve his work ethic, he will one day shine just as brightly as the rest of today’s greatest goalie stars.

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