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Czech List, North American Edition: Mazanec on Radar for Preds, Olympics

By on December 8, 2013 in North American with 0 Comments

By Radoslav Vavřina, Czech Correspondent for All Habs Hockey Magazine

LIBEREC, CZE — Obviously, when a fellow countryman achieves something great, NHL fans in the Czech Republic start paying even more attention to hockey overseas. The hockey market here is probably still dominated by the Extraliga, our highest competition, but the NHL is still second even though there’s a KHL team in Prague. At least that’s what it seems to me – although that assumption comes without research.

Jaromír Jágr has long been a magnet that attracts attention of thousands and who knows, it might be even a couple of millions of Czechs. Now, even though he leads the Devils on the ice, it’s becoming evident that his era is reaching its end. Thankfully, others start emerging. Prague native Tomáš Hertl had an amazing start to his NHL career with San Jose earlier this year, but has since gotten a little cold.

The hottest Czech for now, however, is a goaltender. Taking advantage of an injury to Finnish number-one netminder of the Nashville Predators, Pekka Rinne, Marek Mazanec battled out Carter Hutton in the fight for the temporary starting position in the city of country music and has been impressive.

Marek Mazanec  (Photo by John Russell/NHLI via Getty Images)

Marek Mazanec (Photo by John Russell/NHLI via Getty Images)

Even though he’s had his ups and downs, Mazanec was named NHL’s Rookie of the Month for November last week, an honor he sure has deserved. Currently, he’s appeared in 13 games with the Predators, posting a 2.31 goals-against-average and a .922 save percentage.

Ben Scrivens is probably more of a candidate to become a permanent starter with Kings number-one Jonathan Quick returning from an injury than Mazanec, but it is unlikely that that will happen in Los Angeles. On the other hand, the 22-year-old Czech has admitted that he doesn’t expect anything else than being reassigned back to Predators’ AHL affiliate in Milwaukee after Rinne recovers.

Modesty seems to be a key here and taking a look back at Hertl before his NHL debut, he was as modest and honest as they come. There might be many people who criticize his goal against the Rangers that one night and even I did like Nick Foligno‘s version better as it was a much more vital goal for the Blue Jackets. But, I do believe that Hertl still is and will remain that same nice kid I interviewed last year here in Liberec.

Of course, just until he turns into an honorable veteran like Joe Thornton or Jágr himself. He’s probably not going to become a new Jágr in terms of scoring and flair, but he already is a legit ninja, isn’t he?

There is also quite an interesting story on Mazanec, but it’s something more than just a story only if you realize how fast things happened. Back in 2011, I was entering my second season as a „journalist“, even though I’ve been more of a hockey geek who gets paid for his geekiness. Anyways, that was about the same time I started contributing to All Habs Hockey Magazine.

I also took a job of reporting from games of a lower league team in Jablonec, some fifteen minutes to east from my hometown of Liberec. The team, called the Wolves, played in the third-highest competition of our country and I reported via sms so at times it was rather a battle to survive the cold at the arena than anything else.

One day, the Klatovy team came in town for a game and Mazanec was there as the starter. Even though he’s a native of Písek, Mazanec played in Klatovy where he was lend by Pilsen, the team that owned him at that time and kept him until his departure to North America. That night, Mazanec and his temporary team lost to the Wolves and I believe he allowed six goals.

Thanks to his about 20 appearances in the Extraliga for Pilsen and tending Czech goal at the 2011 World Junior Championships, Mazanec was no stranger to my ears so I made sure I remembered that game. I knew why. After the season, the Predators drafted him in the sixth round and than he became the starter for Pilsen, helping guys like Martin Straka and current KHL star Jan Kovář, also a native of Písek, to win the title.

A transfer to the United States followed and when he made his debut for the Preds, I couldn’t help myself as I had to laugh how quickly he went from an old cold barn in a small town in the Czech Republic to the number-one league of the world. Just impressive.

With Mazanec impressing, my attitude towards the Olympic roster for the Czechs have changed. Michal Neuvirth has long been kind of off his A-game and so now I believe that Mazanec could easily become a backup of Ondřej Pavelec in Sochi. With the third goalie most likely being selected from Europe, both Neuvirth and Petr Mrázek would miss the Olympics then.

Also, the fact that Mazanec originates from Písek is pretty interesting. I’m not telling you why though because I will do so on the next Czech List, the European edition. Another native of that town has impressed for Pilsen in the Extraliga this year and he’s just 18. He sure deserves his own paragraph or two or even more. Until then, enjoy snowy December as we’ll be back in two weeks.

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