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Notes: Jimmy Howard got unexpected but happy offseason phone call

Petr Mrazek makes offseason changes, looks to put last season behind him

by Dana Wakiji @Dwakiji /

TRAVERSE CITY - Right before the expansion draft, Red Wings goaltender Jimmy Howard got an expected phone call from general manager Ken Holland with an unexpected message.

"I got the phone call on (my son) Henry's third birthday and I thought it was a phone call saying you're going to be exposed," Howard said after the second day of training camp at Centre ICE in Traverse City. "Being protected, it was pretty cool. It meant a lot. I've been with this organization for so long. Detroit is home for us, for my family. My boys were born there and have grown up there. It's home."

Howard, 33, had a fantastic season statistically but was limited to 26 games because of injury.

He had a 2.10 goals-against average and .927 save percentage, both career bests.

"He's a great example of when you face adversity, how do you react," Wings coach Jeff Blashill said. "And he faced adversity leading into last year. He had choices to make last summer, and like I said about our team, he dug in and fought like hell. He did change his game a little bit a summer ago, some technique things and it paid off with a great year. I think that's a great thing.

"Guys that have been around this organization know how special it is to be a Red Wing. This isn't just any team, it's the Detroit Red Wings. I don't think he's alone in that, but he certainly has that feeling just like a lot of guys."

Howard managed to finish his season on a high note at the world championships alongside Dylan Larkin and Danny DeKeyser, playing for Team USA.

"It was a lot of fun being over there and being the older guy on the team," Howard said. "Playing with a bunch of 20, 21-year-olds, it was a unique experience. It was just a great time over there, to meet those guys and how enthusiastic they are, and how hard they work day in and day out. It was good. Unfortunately, we played a bad game at the wrong time and in that tournament, you're done."

Howard said he spent the offseason trying to get a stronger lower body so he can make quicker movements.

He's healthy now and is working hard to remain that way.

"A lot more, I guess, pre-workout stuff," Howard said. "More and more flexibility. With the knee injury last year, you can't really do anything about that, two guys running over me. I just try to do the little things before I get out on the ice. Just try to limit everything as best as possible."

While Howard performed well personally, the team faltered and he said no one wants that to happen again.

"I think every single one of us has got a lot to prove," Howard said. "None of us wanted that playoff streak to end. Now I think it's time for us to start a new one. I think everyone in the dressing room is more than capable of having a bounceback year. I'm thinking that it's gonna happen."

MATURING MRAZEK: At 25 and with 144 regular-season games under his belt, goaltender Petr Mrazek is not so much a young prospect anymore.

Success came fairly easily for Mrazek until late February of 2016. Then adversity struck.

That adversity continued through last season when Mrazek went 18-21-0-9 with a 3.04 goals-against average and .901 save percentage.

As a result, the Wings left Mrazek unprotected in the expansion draft but he was not selected by the Vegas Golden Knights.

"The season wasn't the season I wanted to have so I'm happy I'm back," Mrazek said. "I have lots to give back to Detroit, we all know they gave me a chance to play my first NHL game and gave me a chance to play, like, 140 games. So I have lots to prove and give them back."

Blashill said he met with Mrazek in person as soon as the young netminder returned to Detroit.

"When people go through adversity, sometimes it can be a great thing," Blashill said. "You learn a lot, you become better in areas and I think again, for me, Petr's a great kid. He's always been that. For me, I think he's in a position to have success this year."

Said Mrazek: "I had, I think, a really good talk with Blash before the camp about what he can expect from me and what I can expect from him. We talk about offseason and what I did, what we have to work on and I think the conversation went really well."

Mrazek worked with his strength coach and goaltending coach in the Czech Republic over the summer and said he made a few changes, but not really to his style of play.

"It was just work off the ice a little bit more and on the ice, make a couple adjustments, a little bit different position," Mrazek said. "Not to be flying in the net, just stay calm and stop as many pucks as I can.

"It takes a lot of hard work to do that. With my goalie coach in Czech and my strength coach, we talked about it, we had long conversation about what should I do before practice, what should I do after practice, so that's the thing I think I changed a lot."

Blashill said he often uses a quote from football coach Tyrone Willingham, 'great athletes learn to work past boredom.'

"They do the same drill over and over and over and over and over and over again to master a skill," Blashill said. "I think Petr changed to do more of that type of stuff so he masters all those little skills, how to get stick on puck, how to have post integration, all the words, the goalie coach words, he's learned to do that. It's like free-throw shooting, You want to be a great free-throw shooter, you got to shoot free throws over and over. It's boring, most people don't want to do it but you've got to do it to become great at it."

Mrazek said he does not want to dwell on last season but is looking forward to a much better season.

He said he doesn't feel any extra pressure with this being the last year of his contract.

"More excitement maybe, to be one of the best goalies in the league and try to prove myself that I can do it," Mrazek said. "It doesn't matter if it's the contract year or not, every season you want to be the best."

NO KRONWALL ON DAY 2: Defenseman Niklas Kronwall did not skate for the second straight day.

Blashill said Kronwall, who has a chronic knee condition, was experiencing some back trouble.

"Kronner had a little bit of back spasm today, so that's nothing at all I'm concerned about, but I'm not sure whether or not he'll hit the ice in Traverse or we'll just wait," Blashill said. "I don't think it's any big deal but we'll take it day by day."

TANGRADI INJURED: Forward Eric Tangradi of Team Howe was injured in a scrimmage on Friday and did not practice Saturday.

Tangradi had his left knee wrapped.

SCRIMMAGE TIME FOR SOME WINGS: Some of the Wings played in a scrimmage with several of the younger kids.

For Team White, Ben Street centered Tomas Tatar and Gustav Nyquist; Frans Nielsen centered Darren Helm and P.A. Parenteau.

Xavier Ouellet and Mike Green were paired on Team White, as were Jonathan Ericsson and Nick Jensen.

For Team Red, Dylan Larkin centered Justin Abdelkader and Anthony Mantha; Riley Sheahan centered Tyler Bertuzzi and Luke Glendening.

Danny DeKeyser and Trevor Daley played together for Team Red, as did Brian Lashoff and Ryan Sproul.

Howard was the goaltender for Team White and Mrazek was in net for Team Red.

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