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BOMBS AWAY

When Griffins forward Martin Frk releases his explosive shot, opponents are wise to hide.

Story and photo by Mark Newman

              
“Duck and cover.”
              
The slogan, as naive as it now seems, was the admonition delivered by the government to the public 60 years ago in case of a nuclear attack. The strategy, it was alleged, offered a degree of personal protection for individuals hoping to escape harm.
              
“Duck and cover” might be equally useful whenever Martin Frk unloads another one of his bombs from the point on the Griffins’ power play. Woe to any player caught in the direct line of the forward’s booming shot.
              
Griffins head coach Todd Nelson, who has been around professional hockey for more than 25 years, doesn’t hesitate to call Frk’s cannon-like delivery “one of the hardest shots I’ve ever seen.” It’s no wonder that he encourages his players to get out of the way when Frk is ready to pull the trigger.
              
Frk is the detonator of the Griffins’ strategy with the man-advantage – the explosive element that puts the “power” in the club’s special teams play. He’s TNT – That Nasty Threat – that makes grown men shake in their skates.
              
Now in his fourth season in Grand Rapids, the dynamite Frk actually started the season in enemy’s hands. No longer waiver-exempt, he was claimed by the NHL’s Carolina Hurricanes when the Red Wings tried to send him to Grand Rapids.
              
“After I had a pretty good season with a lot of goals, I knew if I had a good training camp, someone might pick me up when Detroit put me on waivers,” Frk said. “When Carolina claimed me, I thought it was perfect. I was going to play in the big leagues for at least a month. I was really excited about the opportunity.”
              
Frk saw his first two games of NHL action during his stint with Carolina. He skated on a total of 26 shifts and, while he didn’t register a point in his 16-plus minutes of ice time, he survived his initiation and properly acquitted himself as a 23-year-old rookie.
              
“I wish everyone got the chance to play at least one game in the NHL,” he said. “It was so much fun. I really enjoyed it. I didn’t play that much, but I was happy every chance I got to be on the ice with the best players in the world. I was happy for every minute I got.”
              
His NHL debut came in Edmonton on Oct. 18 when the ‘Canes dropped a 3-2 decision to the Oilers. He registered one shot during 10:13 of ice time. A week later, he got his second start against the Red Wings in a 4-2 loss at Joe Louis Arena.
              
“Getting to play against Detroit in Joe Louis was special,” he said. “I was not in the lineup the day before, so I was thinking I would be a healthy scratch, but when I came to the rink, I saw my name. I only played six minutes, but I was really happy to get another game.”
              
Six days later, Carolina put Frk on waivers, allowing the Red Wings to reclaim their former prospect and assign him to Grand Rapids.
              
“(Carolina) didn’t really talk to me, so I didn’t know whether I was playing good or bad,” he said. “It’s a business. Maybe if I had scored a goal or picked up a couple of points, I might have stayed longer. You never know about the politics. In the end, they gave me a shot, and I’m very happy that I realized my dream of getting to play in the big leagues.
              
“Things don’t always go the way you want them. Hopefully, I’ll get another shot somewhere else.”
              
He returned to Grand Rapids with mixed feelings. While being claimed by a team other than Detroit would have enabled him to stay in the NHL, he was happy to come back to the Griffins, where he knew his big shot was appreciated.
              
It was not always so.
              
A second-round pick (49th overall) in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft, Frk struggled during his rookie season of 2013-14. He recorded just three goals in 50 games with the Griffins, while tallying five goals in 15 games with the ECHL’s Toledo Walleye.
              
“My first year was really tough,” he admitted. “I don’t think I came ready. I’m not sure if I didn’t work hard enough in the summer, but I told myself that I had to come in better shape the next year.”
              
He did not fare much better during his second season in Grand Rapids, bagging six goals in 32 games with the Griffins, but he started realizing his potential in Toledo, where he amassed 23 goals in 29 contests.
              
“It was frustrating because I just couldn’t do it here,” he said. “I knew I had to stay patient and that things would come one day.”
              
Frk finally found his scoring touch last season, when he recorded 27 goals in 67 games in Grand Rapids. He had six multi-goal games, including back-to-back contests last February. It was only after he started scoring regularly that Frk began to feel more confident about his play.
              
“When I scored a goal, I felt good about myself,” he said. “This league is hard. Everyone wants to show what they can do, and confidence is a big thing. You can be a good hockey player, but if you don’t have confidence, you won’t succeed.
              
“I don’t think I was good with my mind the first two years. I didn’t have confidence and I think I put too much pressure on myself.”
              
Frk said he has learned to cope with the ups and downs of professional hockey. Days and weeks of frustration have been replaced by frequent bursts of optimism. He is the Griffins’ leading goal scorer this season, with 21 goals in his first 47 games, including an even dozen scored on the power play. As a result, Frk became only the ninth player in franchise history to post back-to-back 20-goal seasons.
              
“If I have a bad game now, I just have to let it go,” he said. “It happens. People aren’t perfect. You make mistakes. I know I will not score every game, but I can still work hard and help the team win in a different way.”
              
Frk’s booming shot is no longer a secret, so it’s not always easy for him to find open ice.
              
“It gets harder because the guys will stand right next to me, so I can’t always take the one-timer,” he said. “Instead I’ll try to drag the guy far away so my teammates can do their things on the other side.”
              
The Griffins have so many weapons that the opposition can’t isolate Frk without giving space to his teammates. If teams cover him too closely, it means that one of his teammates should be able to create a scoring opportunity.
              
“If the other team takes a penalty, we want to score. We want to make sure they pay for it,” he said. “Our power play has been unreal this year. We don’t really have a first and second power play unit. Both units are very good. We have a lot of skilled guys and when we stick to the details and do things right, good things happen.
              
“A good power play can win games for you.”
              
In the meantime, Frk continues to fine-tune his shot. He would like to improve its accuracy, even if it means sacrificing some of its power. “I shoot a lot of pucks in practice, especially from the spot where I shoot on the power play,” he said. “That’s my spot, and when you work on something, eventually it pays off.”
              
Frk knows if he can help the Griffins win more games, it will help his own status in the long run.
              
“This is the last year of my contract,” he said. “I want to have good numbers, but more importantly, if the team’s doing well, we’ll go far in the playoffs and that will help not only me but all of the other guys as well.”
              
He also knows that he would like to be considered more than a one-dimensional weapon. “I love to score goals – it’s the best thing to do,” he said. “But when things don’t go your way, you have to bring something different. That’s what the coaches want. They know I can score, so I want to make sure my defense is good, too.”
              
Nelson has witnessed the change in Frk and he likes what he has seen so far.
              
“His 5-on-5 play is much improved from the start of last year,” he said. “His improvement has given me the confidence to put him out there during the last minute of play when we’re up by a goal. That’s a credit to his maturing as a player and a credit to his working on his game so that he is a more complete hockey player.”
              
About the only thing that Frk is still missing is a vowel.