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Jurco makes a name at Top Prospects Game

by Mike G. Morreale /
If forward Tomas Jurco wasn't on your draft radar prior to the CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game in Toronto, he is now.
The dynamic forward for the Saint John Sea Dogs of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League was certainly the talk of the Showdown Breakaway Challenge during the skills portion of the event at Air Canada Centre on Jan. 18.
His amazing lacrosse-style scoop with his stick from between the circles, followed by that spin-o-rama backhand whip to score a goal received the highest score among the 12 participants.
"I was just thinking about what I was going to do at that moment," Jurco told the media after the competition. "All those moves I used to do when I was little and I tried them again and it worked. I liked the spin; I never tried in a game but sometimes in practice. On that move, you can take puck from the ice and then it's just lucky if you were going to score. You can't really aim the shot because you're in the turn, but it was really nice. I didn't really think about if I'm going to score, I just wanted to try it."
The fact Jurco only determined what move he would attempt minutes before his turn was up isn't too surprising since he had so many in his bag of tricks.
"Back home in Slovakia, I used to practice those style of moves and there were a lot of marks on the walls," Jurco told "My mom was pretty mad, but it was funny."
It certainly wasn't the first time the world caught an inspiring glimpse of Jurco. In addition to representing Slovakia at the 2011 World Junior Championship in Buffalo, N.Y., where he was predominantly used as a penalty-killer, his incredible shootout goal against the Cape Breton Eagles last March 10 was a monumental internet hit.
"I remember it … it was really great feelings right after," Jurco said. "I didn't have that much attention before and I feel this year I got more attention (for the goal) than last year. But I'm really happy for that."
On the goal, Jurco skated in before slamming the breaks with the puck directly in front of Cape Breton goalie Olivier Roy before doing a spin-o-rama and tapping the puck past the goalie's outstretched stick.
Saint John coach Gerard Gallant has been privy to Jurco's phenomenal skill set since his arrival in North America. The 18-year-old right wing, drafted fourth overall in the 2009 CHL import draft, led HC Košice of Slovnaft Extraliga in scoring with 24 goals and 54 points in 2008-09 before joining Saint John in August of 2009.
"He does different things at practice," Gallant said. "Some guys would view it as being cocky, but Tomas does it because he wants to score a goal doing it. I just tell him to do what he feels comfortable doing. We're not here to show up anybody, but if that's the move you think you could score a goal with, do it. He's done pretty well in shootouts … he has stick handling and eye coordination to make those great plays."
Jurco led the QMJHL with 9 shootout goals on 11 chances as a rookie and is 3-for-4 this season. Through 40 games, Jurco has 18 goals, 35 points and a plus-29 rating with Saint John. He happens to be one of four players on the talent-laden Sea Dogs roster rated among the top 24 North American skaters, according to NHL Central Scouting's mid-term rankings. The list includes No. 5 Jonathan Huberdeau, No. 9 Nathan Beaulieu, No. 12 Zack Phillips and No. 24 Jurco.
Gallant is pretty confident Jurco will be selected in the first round of the 2011 Entry Draft in St. Paul, Minn., on June 24.
"I wouldn't say I'm a really physical guy," Jurco said. "I'm more like skills, skating and that type of player. But I'm not afraid to get hit and all those things."
Besides his impressive hockey resume, Jurco's English is good and his personality is infectious in the locker room.
"When I first came (to North America), I didn't really speak English," Jurco said. "It was really hard to learn to speak English. At first, I would say the hardest thing then I had to get used to the league and the off-sides and different play. The neutral zone is smaller; it's really hard for a European player so I feel real confident right now."
Apparently, hockey is something that is near and dear in the Yurco household as Petra Jurco, Tomas' 23-year-old sister, is also exceptional with a hockey stick. She actually represented the Slovakian women's national team at the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver.
Tomas, who donned jersey No. 91 last year, wears No. 13 this season in her honor, too.
"I wore No. 13 most of my hockey career so far and my sister plays hockey and wears that number too," Tomas Jurco said. "She was the one who told me to wear the No. 13 in Saint John -- might as well."
Jurco, who managed 1 goal on 8 shots at his first World Junior tournament while playing a predominantly defensive-type role for the team, was grateful for the experience.
"I played against all those best Under-20 players in the world so it was pretty hard," he said. "It was hard to play for Slovakia because we were trying to get to playoffs and trying to play defensively. It's kind of not my role. In St. John, we're playing offensively. But I was playing on the penalty-kill there and trying to help the team the best I could. I can say I like it. It proved I can play defensively … not only offensively."
Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mike_morreale
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