Mrazek honours Frycer, Crha with shiny new Leafs mask
Gravenhurst, Ont. — Petr Mrazek isn’t exactly a professional golfer. But he sure can dress the part.
That’s just one nugget Mrazek revealed to his new Maple Leafs teammates during their two-day pilgrimage north of Toronto for a little pre-season team bonding. Several off-ice activities were planned - including a boat ride around Lake Muskoka - to help fresh faces like Mrazek get acquainted.
His style on the links was definitely an ice-breaker.
“These [European players], they all love golf, and they're all huge [into] looking like they're great golfers,” said Mitch Marner, who was grouped with Mrazek - a native of the Czech Republic - Jack Campbell and Timothy Liljegren in a foursome. “They’re not bad [golfers]; they're pretty good. But how they dress the part, it looks like they're going out there to shoot 60. They're always dressed really nice.”
Mrazek joked he had to go all out with wardrobe, to distract from the harsh reality of, “I look better than I play.” That sense of humour and comfort Mrazek’s been building with the Leafs was only strengthened by the time away, when he could really get deep into conversations.
“He’s a very outgoing guy, very confident guy,” said Jason Spezza. “He seemed to really fit into the group quickly. I think he likes to have a good time and have some laughs but also gets really serious on the ice and is very competitive so he's been a great addition so far.”
Fortunately for Mrazek, it’s his athleticism in the crease - and not on the golf course - that Toronto's really interested in.
The Leafs signed Mrazek to a three-year, $11.4 million free agent contract on July 28, on the same day goaltender Frederik Andersen left as a free agent to sign in Carolina.
Andersen had been the clear No. 1 goalie in Toronto until last season, when his injury-plagued campaign allowed Jack Campbell to step in and take over. And did he ever - Campbell not only produced an NHL-record 11 straight wins to start the year, he also had career-best 2.15 goals-against average.
Now, Mrazek is part of goalie tandem with Campbell. The goal is to have them form a 1A-1B alliance, as opposed to one of them carrying a heavy load. And that’s just fine with Mrazek. He’s been part of a duo for most of his career, playing around 40 games per season from 2017-20 with the Detroit Red Wings, Philadelphia Flyers and Hurricanes.
Mrazek’s numbers the last three years in Carolina were solid, at a 50-32-8 record with .911 save percentage and 2.48 goals-against average.
“We've got two very capable guys,” said coach Sheldon Keefe. “Of course, Jack did terrific work for us last season, and we're very confident in him, and we were able to add to that department with Petr. We just think those guys are going to play off each other very well throughout the season.”
It’s already apparent how much Mrazek and Campbell enjoy one another.
"We've become friends,” Mrazek said. “We’re looking to push each other to be better on the ice, and off the ice, and have fun together. Especially mentally I would say, I think every goalie is different, they play a different game but the most important stuff I think is to be mentally ready, to be mentally fresh and enjoy the time here.”
During the golf excursion, Marner got a front-row seat to the budding bromance. So he can understand now why the two goalie complemented each other so well from the start.
“Him and [Campbell] were a riot out there on the course,” Marner said. “It was a lot of fun to be around. They're constantly joking and laughing [with each other], so it's great when you have two guys like that and especially in net because it's not an easy job in practices so it's great going up against high-energy guys constantly.”
The concept of a consistent goalie tandem is relatively new, going against the ingrained philosophy of one primary starter and a back-up waiting in the wings. Spezza remembers entering the NHL nearly two decades ago and always seeing the same face in net for a specific team, but sharing the workload between Mrazek and Campbell will ideally give Toronto the best chance of success.
“They work together, they talk,” said Spezza. “They encourage the other guy when he's playing. With 82 games and how fast the season happens, you need two goalies and you need them to work well together. Knowing Soupy's personality, he's a guy that gets along with all his goalie partners and Pete I've heard great things about so it'll be seamless for those guys.”
Mrazek has a simple philosophy for making that smooth transition happen, honed from years of experience lifting other goalies up.
“The key is to support each other, because there's always going to be ups and downs and the season is so long,” Mrazek said. “You're trying to show up every day and push each other and you're trying to show [one another] that you can do it, so it's just like more mentally to help each other. If someone has a bad day, you just give him a little boost and [share a] positive attitude.”