November 5, 2010
Upon first glance at the lineup sheet, it might look like Cory Emmerton and Jan Mursak have little in common. Emmerton is from the hockey hotbed of Ontario, while Mursak’s home country of Slovenia boasts just one NHL player. A two-hour drive from Emmerton’s hometown ends in either Detroit or Toronto. Two hours from Mursak’s puts you in Austria or Hungary.
However, the two Grand Rapids Griffins forwards have plenty of similarities. They were both drafted by Detroit in the 2006 NHL Entry Draft, both played in the Ontario Hockey League, both are in their third full seasons with the Griffins (having debuted in the 2007 playoffs), and they’re both riding career-best point streaks, sharing the Griffins’ scoring lead with 10 points each through nine games.
“We’re the same age, we’ve known each other for a long time,” said Mursak, on playing with Emmerton.
“We came from the same age group in the same draft,” said Emmerton. “I’ve known him for five years, been playing together for the third year now.”
The two top prospects got long looks from Detroit at training camp, with extended preseason action. They’ve translated this into very quick starts at the AHL level. Together with newcomer Ilari Filppula, they’ve comprised the Griffins’ best offensive line so far.
Mursak rode a six-game point streak to close out the month of October, totaling eight points (5-3—8). Emmerton has a five-game streak running as well, racking up nine points (2-7—9). The chemistry is undeniable; Mursak has been on the ice for every Emmerton goal, and Emmerton has been on the ice for all but one of Mursak’s.
“Everything just goes our way right now,” said Mursak. “We have really good chemistry on our line.”
Griffins’ coach Curt Fraser isn’t surprised about the pair’s early success.
“Nobody works harder than these two guys off the ice, and it prepares them better for on the ice,” said Fraser.
“I was working extra hard in the summer,” said Mursak. “I got a trainer to help me with conditioning, and I got stronger. Now I’m more confident on the ice.”
Mursak’s 10 points during October earned him the Griffins’ nomination as Reebok/AHL Player of the Month. Emmerton received the team’s nod for Reebok/AHL Player of the Week honors on Nov. 1, after racking up five assists during the team’s back-to-back home games on Oct. 29 and 30.
Both players appreciated the recognition but are more focused on the team’s play.
“It’s a big thing, but there’s a lot of guys that played really well,” said Mursak. “My line helped me a lot. We’re just getting better and better from game to game.”
“That just comes along with winning and doing well, but I’m not really worried about that,” said Emmerton. “It’s more about the wins right now.”
Fraser echoed the team-first mentality and added that he expects Emmerton and Mursak to maintain their high level of play all season long.
“This is their third year, this is what they should be doing, and this is where we expected them to be,” said Fraser. “They’ve worked very, very hard the last two years preparing for this year. Now they’re starting to enjoy some of those rewards that come from all that hard work they did.”
Both players will be carefully watched by the Red Wings’ brass this season. “It’s very, very important that both of them have strong years, and they’re ready to compete for jobs with the Detroit Red Wings next year,” said Fraser. “You get a three-year grace period to learn, mature and develop.”
“Both of them look like they’re on the right track, and they’re leading our team right now. I expected them to do that, and I’m glad they’ve been able to accomplish that.”
The pair set career highs last year in points and are on an early pace to eclipse those totals. Emmerton put up 37 points (12-25—37) while Mursak had 42 (24-18—42), and they’re each looking forward to having extended playing time together this season.
“Jan’s a great shooter and a great skater,” said Emmerton. “We’ve found a good mix of players in general on that line, and we’ve been playing a ton. With more ice time comes a lot more responsibility.”
“We know what we are doing on the ice, what we are good at,” said Mursak. “We help (each other) a lot, we talk a lot. (I know) what play he’ll make.”
Fraser also noted that the top line of Mursak, Emmerton, and Filppula is a big part of the team’s potent power play. Grand Rapids currently ranks first in the AHL with the man advantage, clicking at a success rate of 28.2%.
“I think a lot of that is the fact that we’ve taken our five-on-five line and supported each other really well,” said Emmerton “We’ve done a really good job of that so far, we’ve had a lot of success.”
“The league is really hard, all the teams are really good right now,” said Mursak. “Every game, every minute, every period, everything is important. We have to stay concentrated for a whole game and play a whole 60 minutes.”
Emmerton and Mursak look poised to establish themselves as reliable, consistent scorers at the AHL level, something both accomplished back in the OHL. Emmerton put up 90 points in 66 games in 2005-06, while Mursak had 80 points in 62 games as an OHL rookie in 2006-07.
“Both of them are very competitive,” said Fraser. “But the bottom line is, when the team’s winning, they’ve got to be leading us every step of the way. Right now, they’re doing that.”
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