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Oct. 26, 2011

by Kyle Kujawa -
For many hockey players, the word “offseason” is an oxymoron. While there might not be any more “season,” there is certainly no “off.” There are more days spent in the gym, along with countless hours on the ice in an attempt to bring those skating or puckhandling skills to the next level.

After all that work in the summer, the depth chart is wiped clean, and players give their all during a two-week training camp. No matter how much work they’ve put in, sometimes the coaches think there might be a need for a little seasoning.

And sometimes, all of that can change within a few shifts.

In the case of Andrej Nestrasil, it was determined that he might benefit from a little time with the ECHL’s Toledo Walleye before graduating to full-time AHL work. After participating in Detroit’s training camp and skating in week of practices with the Griffins, Nestrasil was reassigned to Toledo on Oct. 5.

With Travis Ehrhardt and Landon Ferraro battling injuries and Mitch Callahan serving a suspension, Nestrasil was called back up to the Griffins on Oct. 19 and made an immediate impact, recording two goals and one assist in his first three games.

“It was perfect, I really enjoyed it,” said Nestrasil. “I was grateful to be called up on Wednesday and meet up with the team. We had a lot of fun last weekend, even though we should have brought back more points than we did.”

While there have been no promises made about roster moves once other players return, Nestrasil feels he has stated his case for a full-time roster spot – and boosted his confidence in his own abilities.

“You need the confidence to be able to score goals,” explained the 20-year-old winger. “The first game, I didn’t really know what to expect – how tough it was going to be, or how fast everyone was. I got used to it, and the next game I was confident I could play in this league and produce some points.”

After not registering on the scoresheet in a 4-1 loss to the Oklahoma City Barons on Friday, Nestrasil picked up his first two professional points en route to being named the game’s first star in a 3-2 shootout win the following night. He assisted on a goal by Brent Raedeke before beating Barons netminder David LeNeveu on a rebound for his first professional goal. He added his second goal in Houston on Sunday, burying a feed from Tomas Tatar into the Aeros’ net for the Griffins’ only goal on the night.

“I think I left everything on the ice,” Nestrasil said. “I think if I’m going to play like I did on the trip, and keep improving, I don’t see a reason why I should go back down to Toledo. I’m hoping to stay here.”

Nestrasil appeared in one regular season game for the Walleye, in the team’s season-opening loss to the Chicago Express on Oct. 15. He was impressed with the style of the league and the environment in Toledo.

“The first game was pretty tough and we lost,” he said. “We were the better team on the ice, but we couldn’t score. It was a good game – it’s a pretty tough league. Toledo is really nice; they have a nice rink and locker room. Everything is brand new.”

Adjusting quickly to a new organization is part of any hockey player’s job, especially of a minor league player, who can be recalled and demoted at a moment’s notice. Nestrasil thinks that having skated with the Griffins before the season, in addition to spending time with many of the young players at the Red Wings’ prospect camps, eases the difficulty of his adjustment.

“I’ve gotten used to over the past few years meeting new people all of the time,” said Nestrasil, who learned about adjusting to new organizations after being traded in junior hockey. “I knew most of the guys, so it wasn’t a big deal. I met them at the airport and felt like I hadn’t even left.”

The quick adjustment helped Nestrasil rise to the top of the Griffins’ early-season scoring leaders, as he currently sits in a fourth-place tie with three points. This is hardly unusual though, as he capped off his three-year QMJHL career with Prince Edward Island by finishing second in team scoring with 70 points (19-51—70) in 58 games. He believes the experience in the QMJHL was a great step in launching his professional career.

“I made the decision to go there to make sure scouts could see me and that I’d get drafted,” said Nestrasil, who was selected in the third round (75th overall) by Detroit in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft. “I think [the CHL] is the best preparation for the AHL and NHL. In Europe, you don’t play hockey like that. They have huge rinks and a lot of skilled guys, but no hitting.

“I’m not really a fast guy, so I need the smaller rink to make sure I’m closer to the net,” he said with a smirk.

While playing in the AHL is a challenge that he hopes to have the opportunity to continue, Nestrasil is motivated to play in Grand Rapids for another reason: it reminds him of home.

“I like it more than the small cities where the junior teams play because I’m from Prague, which is a huge city,” he explained. “It’s probably the most beautiful city I’ve seen in the USA so far, it’s really clean. I just hope I’m going to stay here until the end of the season. I just love it here.”

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