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The transition continues

by Dhiren Mahiban / Vancouver Canucks

Mario Bliznak’s decision to leave his native Slovakia and join the Vancouver Giants at the age of 18 will probably go down as one of the best verdicts the youngster has come to in his early career.

Bliznak, the Canucks seventh-round selection at the 2005 NHL Entry Draft, was taken 27th overall, just weeks later, in the CHL Import Draft by the Western Hockey League’s Giants.

The six-foot, 185-pound centre spent three seasons with the Giants, including two extended playoff runs culminating in Memorial Cup appearances.

Bliznak admits he couldn’t imagine what the transition to the professional level would’ve been like without his time in the WHL.

“It probably would have been a lot harder,” admitted Bliznak, who appeared in 69 games with the Giants during his rookie season. “The (experience) was great, I didn’t know what to expect at first, but I mean the three years I spent there helped me a lot.

“I learned English, learned to play the North American style of hockey and we had good teams all three years.”

As a member of the Giants, Bliznak put together 36 goals and 58 helpers during the regular season and added 13 goals and 12 assists in 50 playoff games.

“The runs in the playoffs to the Memorial Cup were good experiences,” Bliznak said. “We played in tough, tight games in the playoffs – it helped me a lot.”

According to Bliznak’s former coach Don Hay, the difference maker for Bliznak was returning for his overage year with the Giants.

“The big thing with Mario was coming back as a 20-year-old,” said Hay, “not only coming here as an 18-year-old and having his 18 and 19-year-old years here, but to play as a 20-year-old I think that gave him a lot more confidence.

“He got to play in a lot of situations where he had to have the puck. He was always good defensively, but to give him the opportunity to play in offensive situations was very important and I think that really helped his development.”

His time in the WHL helped his transition to the pro game where he has spent the past two seasons with the AHL’s Manitoba Moose.

Last year in his rookie season with the Moose, Bliznak picked up 16 points while appearing in 64 games with the Canucks affiliate.

This season he’s already picked up 13 points in 44 games, an improvement which earned him a closer look from the Canucks in late October.

“It was great, I was surprised when I got the call up,” said Bliznak grinning ear to ear. “You know it was my dream to play in the NHL and my dream came true. It was just a great experience.”

Bliznak made his NHL debut on Oct. 30 when the Canucks visited Anaheim and suited up for is first home game in Vancouver on Nov. 1 when the Canucks hosted the Avalanche.

The two-game stint with the big club was a good learning experience for Bliznak.

“You have to be ready to play every night. If you want to play there you have to be consistent every night and play your best every night,” Bliznak said.

The big thing Bliznak feels he needs to work on moving forward is playing the same way night in and night out.

“I think the consistency is the biggest thing, play the same way every game; not one good game, one bad game.”

 
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