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The road back for Wings' Mursak

by Michael Caples / Detroit Red Wings
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DETROIT – According to Google Maps, the drive between Grand Rapids’ Van Andel Arena and Joe Louis Arena takes roughly 2 ½ hours. That’s a lot of driving alone for 23-year-old Jan Mursak, who was called up from the Red Wings’ AHL affiliate on Wednesday.

Luckily for Mursak, he has international call-capability on his cell phone.

“It takes a little over two hours,” said Mursak, the second Slovenian player to make it to the NHL. “But normally I have a few phone calls and I listen to music. … I talk on the phone with friends and family, so the time goes fast.”

The Wings’ sixth-round pick in 2006 said that it’s always exciting to call loved ones back home to deliver the news that he will be skating in the NHL again.

“Yeah of course it is, everyone’s happy for me, too,” he said. “I have a lot of friends back home that are cheering for me, and they’re really happy every time I play in the NHL, and they wish me the best. It’s good to talk to them, and see that they support me.”

Mursak’s call-up was made necessary when forward Patrick Eaves went down with a lower-body injury in the second period of Tuesday’s 4-3 loss to San Jose. Mursak will be in the line-up when the Wings host the Dallas Stars on Thursday.

Before Wings coach Mike Babcock addressed the media following the morning skate, he stopped by Mursak’s locker to welcome him back. The Wings’ bench boss hopes that Mursak will continue to play the way he did in a recent 17-game stint that ended earlier this month.

“I just said, ‘Hi, how are you? I haven’t seen you. How’s your team playing?’ ” Babcock said. “Murk’s been here enough, he understands what’s going on, he knows he’s filling in, and he knows we like him. Just come here, play hard, and be yourself.”

The Red Wings know exactly what they get out of Mursak, who will skate Thursday on a line with Tomas Holmstrom and Justin Abdelkader.

“Just speed and tenacity and be on the puck,” said Babcock, referring to Mursak. “We really feel that he’s an NHL player in waiting. We think he’s got a good shot, has good courage, puts a lot of heat on the other team’s defense, and we’ll look for that.”

Mursak will be playing with a new confidence when he takes skates against the Stars; the Wings signed him to a two-year extension this month. The young forward said he is glad to have one less thing to worry about.   

“I was really happy when I signed the contract already and I didn’t have to wait until the summer, and have to worry in the summer about that,” he said. “It’s way easier now; I can just concentrate on my own play and not worry about my future.”

This latest trip to Detroit for Mursak may be short-lived. The Wings are hoping to see both Valtteri Filppula and Mike Modano return to the line-up by as early as Saturday in Buffalo.

However, Mursak will not put more pressure on himself during the short window of opportunity.

“I’m just trying to do the best that I can any game I play,” he said, “so I’m just happy to be here and not worry about how many games I get. I just want to do the best I can.

“Of course, I played quite a bit of games now, and every game that I’ve played I was more comfortable, but there’s a big difference between the American Hockey League and the NHL, and when I went back, the first game I had a little bit of a problem, because it’s so different, but hopefully I’ll do good (Thursday) and I don’t have any problems.”

When asked what advice he would give to his linemate, Abdelkader – another player familiar with the drive between Grand Rapids and Detroit – said Mursak doesn’t need to change much.

“He’s had a great opportunity obviously, playing so many games up here,” Abdelkader said. “Any time you get the opportunity, just go out there and do your best and work hard. I think everything else will take care of itself. So to have the opportunity to come up and play as many games as he has this year, it’s good experience for him, and just go out and work hard and take care of business.”

And Mursak said he will play the same way he plays every game.
“Well, I’m happy to be back,” he said. “Even if I’m playing in Grand Rapids, I want to do my best, and when I come here, do the same thing. Hopefully I can help the team win.”

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