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Jurco gains experience on Wings' top line

by Bill Roose / Detroit Red Wings
Tomas Jurco logged more than 16-minutes of ice time Sunday in his NHL debut against the Tampa Bay Lightning. (Photo by Dave Reginek/Detroit Red Wings)

DETROIT – Before Tomas Jurco made the three hour drive from Grand Rapids to Joe Louis Arena on Sunday, he was teased that he wasn’t really making his NHL debut.

“Yeah, when I got called up, Riley Sheahan was making fun of me that I was going to play against Syracuse,” Jurco said. “So I knew it was going to be against a lot of guys from last year, but it’s a different level. It’s the NHL here and way different than last year’s playoff.”

The rosters for the Red Wings and Tampa Bay Lightning featured 15 players who played in last spring’s AHL Calder Cup championship series between the Red Wings and Lightning farm teams – the Grand Rapids Griffins and Syracuse Crunch. The Griffins won the Cup in a six-game series.

With the Red Wings roster looking more and more like a hospital ward lately, seven current or former Griffins were in the NHL lineup, including goalie Petr Mrazek, forwards Gustav Nyquist, Tomas Tatar, Luke Glendening, Joakim Andersson and defenseman Brian Lashoff. Meanwhile, the Lightning’ young roster consisted of eight former Crunch stars: Radko Gudas, Andrej Sustr, Matt Taormina, Mark Barberio, Tyler Johnson, Richard Panik, Ondrej Palat and J.T. Brown.

Despite the 3-0 loss, the 20-year-old Jurco said he gained invaluable experience while skating with Pavel Datsyuk and Daniel Alfredsson on the Red Wings’ top forward line.

“When I first find out I’m coming here I have no idea that I’m going to start with Pav and Alfie,” said Jurco, who logged 16:45 of ice-time. “I just found out before the game and it was a great feeling. I think we played pretty well. We didn’t score but we had some chances. It’s an unbelievable experience for me. It’s experience that you take. I know what to expect from other games and I know where I should get better and where I’m at right now. Just to be here gives me a lot, just to know where I’m at right now.”

Coach Mike Babcock was impressed with Jurco’s first outing, though there is room for improvement at this level.

“I think he’s just big, he’s fast, he’s got some skill set,” Babcock said. “I’d like him to be more dangerous taking the puck to the net but I still thought he did lots of good things for Pav and Alfie, getting pucks back. He looks like a fairly high-end player.”

For Mrazek, he made his first NHL home start, making 23 saves, though two former Crunch players – Tyler Johnson and T.J. Brown – scored on the rookie goalie.

“I know we played them last year in the AHL final, but it’s a different game and different situations right now,” Mrazek said. “I think the second period I played really well, and we just couldn’t score a goal. They scored first and that was the most important (thing) in the game.”

Mrazek was solid throughout the game, especially through the first 40-minutes when he made 13 saves to keep the game scoreless heading into the third period.

“I thought he played fine. I thought he gave us a chance,” Babcock said. “The goals they scored were back side tap ins. We had the puck on both goals. So anyway you look at it, when you have the puck on both goals, I’m talking D-men on breakouts, you should execute. We didn’t execute on those two breakouts and it ended up in our net.”

Follow Bill Roose on Twitter | @Bill_Roose

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