DETROIT – He worked his way into the No. 1 role in Detroit this season, and now Petr Mrazek seems to be the favorite for the Czech Republic team that will compete in the World Cup of Hockey in September.
Mrazek, who has been near the top of the NHL leaderboard in several categories this season, was among the 16 players named to the Czech’s initial roster on Wednesday.
“To be a part of the Czech national team playing for the World Cup, I'm really excited,” Mrazek said. “It's going to be a great tournament, lots of guys know each other from the same teams and we play against each other in the season so it's going to be a fun tournament."
Besides the 24-year-old Mrazek, the Czech’s placed two other goalies on the roster – Philadelphia’s Michal Neuvirth and Winnipeg’s Ondrej Pavelec.
Mrazek has had a far better season than the other two goalies that will compete for playing time in the two-week tournament.
The six nations playing for the World Cup are the United States, Canada, Russia, Finland, Czech Republic and Sweden. The remaining two teams are Team North America and Team Europe.
The North American team will be composed of American and Canadian players age 23 and younger as of Oct. 1, 2016. The European squad can draw from any nation on the continent other than Finland, Sweden, Russia and the Czech Republic.
Throughout the day Wednesday, teams announced the first 16 players to their rosters.
Mrazek had six Wings teammates added to five other rosters. They are Pavel Datsyuk (Russia), Justin Abdelkader (USA), Dylan Larkin (North American), Tomas Tatar (Europe), and Henrik Zetterberg and Niklas Kronwall (Sweden).
Former Wings forwards Valtteri Filppula (Finland) and Marian Hossa (Europe) were also named to teams.
The final seven players on each team’s 23-man roster will be announced on June 1.
The tournament, which begins Sept. 17 in Toronto, means a shorter summer for those players participating in the games.
But Mrazek doesn’t see it that way.
"We're going to play for a trophy, for the winners,” he said. “So it's going to be full level, full speed. I think everybody after a long break is going to get into the games so it's going to be good games."
For Larkin, complete on the international stage in something other than the red, white and blue will take some getting used to. But he’s still excited for the opportunity to play with his peers on a team coached by former Wings’ assistant Todd McLellan
“Playing against Sweden and seeing Henrik and Kronner, see Pav and playing against those guys, but it would be weird to see across and play against the Americans,” Larkin said.
“Pretty cool to be on the Under-23 team with all the young guys and guys in a similar position as yourself,” he added. “It’s going to be an exciting thing to watch.”
Tatar wishes his country, Slovakia, had its own entry into the World Cup, but with so few NHL players from the small central European nation, he understands the need to have a collaborative team.
“We don’t have as many NHL players anymore so it’ll be hard to compete against other teams like Canada or U.S.,” Tatar said. “I’m really excited. This team might have a big chance to win. There’s many great players from different countries so it’s going to be interesting in the locker room.”
USA, Canada, Czech Republic, and Europe will complete in Group A, while Finland, Russia, Sweden and North America are in Group B.
The preliminary round will take place Sept. 17-22. The top two finishers in each group will advance to the semifinals, which will take place Sept. 24-25. The top seed from Group A will play the second seed from Group B, while the top seed from Group B will play the second seed from Group A.
The semifinal winners will advance to a best-of-three finals series. The final round will be held on Sept. 27, Sept. 29, and Oct. 1 (if necessary).