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September 21, 2010

by Karen Patterson

At this year’s prospects tournament in Traverse City, Mich., the Detroit Red Wings earned the right to play in the gold medal game for the first time in 12 years. Although the team lost 3-1 to the Minnesota Wild in the Sept. 16 contest, Grand Rapids Griffins head coach Curt Fraser, who serves as head coach of the Wings’ prospect team during the tournament, feels the young players have made great strides of improvement over the years.

Overall, what was your impression of this year’s prospect tournament?

It was my third year here and I think that every year the tournament has improved. It was a really good start and it is becoming more difficult to win games in this tournament. For us this year, we played some really good young prospects that came in and some in their second year, we had great goaltending, and we made it to the championship game.

How valuable of an experience is the prospects tournament for the youngest players?

It really prepares them for Detroit’s training camp. And the rookie camp we had in the summer introduced them to the systems and the way we play. Then they go to Traverse City and learn how to compete in the prospects tournament, so when they come to the Red Wings’ camp they’re not just standing in awe on the ice. They’re taking part and they’ve all looked very good thus far.

Talk about playing in the championship game for the first time. What do you think it shows of the Detroit prospects?

For the first 50 minutes of the game, we were the better team. It was the first year in 12 that they’ve even played in the championship game, and it was a great step for us because now I think we found the things that we need to do to be successful in the tournament. Hopefully next year we’ll win it.

How did you prepare the team for the game?

We have had a chance to work on our systems and all those sorts of things the last couple of years. The players have gotten better and better, and then this year, like I said, we had some really great players come in and our goaltending was exceptional. If you don’t have good goaltending you have no chance, and this year they were terrific. The combination of having the rookie camp over the summer, then introducing these guys in Traverse City helps to get these guys going, and this year they really grabbed a hold and performed really well.

Who were the goaltenders in the tournament that played so well?

Thomas McCollum played the first game of the tournament. Jordan Pearce, who played for us in Grand Rapids last year a little, as well as Toledo and at Notre Dame before that, also played. Petr Mrazek is a Czech kid who came over for his first time and is real young, and he played fantastic. Those are really good things for your team to have happen, because now we’ll have a couple of them for next year, and that will make us stronger for the tournament next year.

How has what you saw in the tournament translated to training camp for the returning Griffins players?

The guys that we had in Grand Rapids last year and the year before have all looked very good, they’re in much better shape, they look more confident on the ice, and they’re growing as players, which is exactly what you look for as a coach.

In three years, what improvements have you seen?

The first year coming here, we competed pretty hard and lost in a few shutouts, so that wasn’t great. The next year we did a little bit better and continued to get a little closer, so that was good. And then this year, now we’re in the finals, so I really think that the last couple of years things have been happening and our preparation has been going better. The players that we had this year were very good, so hopefully we can continue to build and win this tournament next year.