Lockout-Serie: Jan Muršak im Interview
Der aktuelle NHL-Lockout bringt einige der besten Spieler der Welt nach Europa und auch in der EBEL tummeln sich seit Wochen einige Akteure, die heimische Eishockeyfans sonst nur aus dem Fernsehen kennen. THEFANBLOG hat sich einige der NHLer zum Interview geladen und sie zu ihrer bisherigen Karriere, dem Leben in der NHL und den aktuellen Erfahrungen in der heimischen Liga befragt.
Diesmal Olimpija Ljubljana-Stürmer Jan Muršak im (englischsprachigen) Gespräch mit THEFANBLOG-Redakteur Alex Kern. Er spricht über die Herausforderungen, bei einem so prestigeträchtigen Verein wie Detroit zu spielen und erklärt die Unterschiede zwischen der NHL, der AHL und der EBEL.
TFB: Jan, you recently returned to your home country Slovenia to play for Olimpija Ljubljana in the EBEL. What were your main reasons to sign with the team?
Muršak: When the NHL lockout was announced, I wanted to come to Europe right away to start playing. I did not want to wait too long as I have missed most of last season with an injury. I talked to a few teams here and figured that Ljubljana would be the perfect fit for me. It was close to my home, my family and friends. Thus, I knew that I will get a lot of ice time as well and will bascially play in all situations. So, I talked to my agent and we went through all the different options we had on the table.
TFB: Which options did you have? Have you talked to other EBEL teams besides Olimpija?
Yes, we’ve been in touch with Graz for a while, but obviously, a deal could not be reached back then. Graz told me to wait a little bit longer – a week or two – because the management did not know if Thomas Vanek would finally be available for the team or not. There were also some teams from the Czech Republic but they also wanted me to wait and so I decided to join Ljubljana. In retrospect, the best decision I could have made. The organization as well as its fans are great.
TFB: Currently, you are one of the best players in the EBEL. You’ve been producing right away and never stopped since then (31 points in only 17 games). What makes you such a dominating force?
Muršak (smiling): Thanks, but things could have easily turned out the different way. You need some luck too. The most important thing is that I get a lot of ice time here in Ljubljana. The league and the players are pretty strong and there is a huge difference to the NHL – the larger ice, which creates lots of room to move for the good skaters. I personally benefit from the big ice to force my skating abilities.
Another aspect is that I play in every situation: 5-on-5, power play, penalty killing. It is totally different to my play and role assigned in Detroit where I get only 5 to 7 minutes ice time per game as a fourth liner. We have to bring energy to the team and destroy the game of the top lines – our assignment is primarily shutting down lines, so defence comes first. In Ljubljana, I am playing on the first line and everything is working out very well so far. The team expects me to score goals! But it’s getting tougher from game to game because the other EBEL teams pay a lot more attention to our first line now. They do not let us do much since a couple of games. Anyway, I’ve to admit that playing that much is a whole new experience for me.
TFB: Other NHL players do not score that much in the EBEL as you are. How come, any ideas?
Muršak: Tough question. One of my main assets is my skating ability. In direct comparison to others, I’m maybe more used to play in bigger rinks. This might be a possible reason. Adjustment needs time, also the style of play is quite different. Other than that, I assume the other guys do not get as much ice time as I get here in Ljubljana. Our roster is not that deep, competition is not that high. In my first 11 games, our line did great with scoring 2 or 3 goals each game. Sometimes everything goes your way but there are also times when nothing works, the puck bounces badly and subsequently nothing goes in.
TFB: Last season, Olimpija Ljubljana managed to reach the EBEL semi-finals and lost against the later champion Black Wings Linz. What is a realistic outcome for Ljubljana this year?
Muršak: Every single year, Olimpija has to bring new imports on board because good players leave or get lured away from other EBEL teams. For Ljubljana, due to the tight budget situation, it’s hard to lock up good import players long-term. For instance, most of last season’s defence left to either Villach or Vienna, so the team had to compensate for three top defencemen (namely Fraser, Cole, Hotham).
It’s hard to say how far this year’s team can go. Overall, we should be able to reach the play-offs. Our team is skilled, but unfortunatley it lacks a bit in size. Other teams have bigger and stronger players. Again, we do great 5-on-5 but we have troubles when it comes to killing penalties. Penalties are often called right away in this league. In many cases referees do not let the game move on – this is another huge difference to the NHL. Clearly, we need to work on an effective penalty kill in order to make the play-offs.
TFB: You are under contract with the Detroit Red Wings, a NHL powerhouse known for its deep prospect pool and the obvious talent to pull gems out of the NHL Draft that no other team sees. Is it a disadvantage being in the system of such a top franchise compared to playing for laggards like Edmonton, Columbus or Anaheim, for instance?
Muršak: I think, there is always a good and bad side to every story. The good thing is that Detroit is a best-practice organization in the NHL, maybe the best at all. As a young player you can learn directly from the best – take Lidström, Zetterberg or Datsyuk. Many NHL greats play or played in Detroit. On the other side, it is quite hard to make the NHL team and not getting cut in the pre-season. Detroit has a lot of veteran players who have an impressive experience and already won several Stanley Cups. Young guys are mostly send to the AHL to get better there – it’s clearly seen as a development league. Everybody has to go through it, there is no way around it if you want to get ready for full-time NHL duty with the Red Wings franchise. Even if you make the team as a young player, you do not get as much ice time as needed. It’s not always fair in sports but if you make a mistake in Detroit you will be sent back to the AHL. This is part of the game.
It might indeed be easier with other teams, yes. If you play for a team with a lower amount of real superstars and veteran players on its roster, you obviously get more chances and thus more opportunities to prove yourself. That’s what it is all about. It’s always easier to play for such teams and win confidence steadily. In a top franchise like Detroit, young players often loose their confidence and do not play as strong as they potentially could. It’s tough to see players play in the NHL and knowing that you were better while playing against them in the minors. But I know if I make it at Detroit I can make it everywhere. This keeps me work even harder.
TFB: I guess it must be a huge adjustment to change teams during the season like you had to with Detroit in the NHL and Grand Rapids in the AHL last season?
Muršak: It was extremely hard to get back to Grand Rapids. It’s totally different. Two years ago, I went up and down quite a few times and even played 4 games in only 4 days which was very exhausting. Besides this, it was mentally challenging because you have worked hard to pursue your childhood dream, which is play in the NHL. It is easier to play in the NHL with and against all the skilled guys.
In the AHL, most of the players are hard workers or grinders with lower skill levels, but always finishing checks and really going for it. In each AHL team you have only one top line that is offensively skilled and expected to produce and score goals. This is a whole different (ball) game, you can’t compare the styles of play.
TFB: Your contract is going to end next year. I assume that the current lockout situation is not ideal for you because you miss the chance to show and unlock your full potential…
Muršak: Well, I had really bad luck last year with my injury. I lost nearly the complete season and when I came back I had not much ice time. Of course, I would love to go back to the NHL and having the opportunity to show what I can finally bring to the table. I want to take my game to the next level and prove myself as a potential NHL regular. Not only for Detroit, but also for all other NHL teams. If I do not get a chance in the NHL, I will return to Europe and go to one of the top leagues here in Europe.
TFB: Would it be frustrating for you, if you have to sign with a pro team in Europe?
If I fail, it would definitely be very disappointing for me. Anyway, there are plenty of great opportunities out there. I would love to go to Sweden, to Switzerland or to the KHL – no question about it. The level of competition in those leagues is also very high. But to be honest, I do not want to think about it. I hope that I will get my chance in the NHL as I want to make my career overseas. That’s my ultimate goal.
TFB: How does the process work when you ask for a trade?
Muršak: When you’re generally available, Detroit contacts all other teams in the NHL. If teams are interested, Detroit’s general manager would call my agent to clarify all details and trade options. Up to now, we’ve not talked about future trade scenarios as the Red Wings organization has great expectations in me and my skills. And again, my ultimate goal is to make the team in Detroit.
TFB: Is your performance being monitored here in Europe? Are you in contact with the coaching or scouting staff?
Muršak: Yeah, I am pretty sure that the franchise knows about my current performance here in the EBEL. I don’t think this will give me a competitive advantage though (smiles). Hockey is completely different here. If I get enough ice time playing with the right people that help me to improve and elevate my game, I will also be able to score in the NHL. Ideally, the lockout ends soon, so I can go back and convince them personally.
TFB: You’ve been playing in a lot of different leagues. What are the main differences between the NHL and the EBEL?
Muršak: The rink in the NHL is much smaller, but the guys are bigger and stronger. Everyone is fighting on the ice for the last piece of it. The play in the NHL is much quicker and not so physical. You have more time with the puck and – in my opinion – it’s way easier to play. In the NHL people shoot from every corner in order to score a goal.
In the EBEL many guys try to set up nicer plays and score nicer goals. You’ve got more time because of the bigger ice rink. That’s the main difference. In the United States you have to keep it simple most of the time because you do not have the time, guys are coming with full speed. The NHL is the best league worldwide and no other league is close to the NHL, not even the Russian league.
TFB: What did you do to get drafted by the Red Wings?
Muršak: When I was 17, I played in the Under-18 World Junior Championships and after the tournament Austrian agents talked to me about potential opportunities in some leagues abroad. There was a chance to go to Sweden and another option was in the Czech Republic. It was closer to my home country and after the try-out phase I decided to play a year for Budejovice. It was a good decision because I had a great year and after the season I got drafted by Detroit in the NHL Draft of 2006 and went on to North America to play junior hockey in the OHL (Saginaw Spirit and Belleville Bulls).
Der Slowene Jan Mursak zog 2005 aus, um über den Weg der tschechischen Juniorenliga, den Sprung in die beste Liga der Welt, in die NHL, zu schaffen. An 182. Stelle gedraftet spielt er seit 2008 im System der Detroit Red Wings. Mit bisher 44 NHL- und 190 AHL-Spielen (Grand Rapids Griffins) im Gepäck nutzt er den Lockout, um bei Olimpija Ljubljana die heimische Liga gehörig aufzumischen.