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Destiny: Detroit

Oct 13, 2023
Written By: Mark Newman

Jackson, Michigan, native Carter Mazur hopes to fulfill his dream of playing for the Red Wings.

Destiny is no matter of chance. It is a matter of choice. It is not a thing to be waited for, it is a thing to be achieved.

– William Jennings Bryan

Photo by Mark Newman

For some, life is what happens when you are busy making other plans. There is a presumption of inevitability. The French phrase fait accompli literally means "an accomplished fact" -- it's the term applied to an irreversible event or situation that cannot be changed. In other words, a done deal.

Nothing, however, is guaranteed. Stars sometimes do align, but often the tides turn in an unpredictable fashion. What one expects to occur never happens.

Destiny is the promise of fate.

Growing up in Jackson, Michigan, Carter Mazur was a Red Wings fan. His dream was to become an NHL player, specifically for his favorite team. At the age of 8, he made his intentions clear in a drawing, adding the declaration that doing so would allow him to "give money to the poor and hospitals."

Mazur doesn't recall creating the colorful artwork that his mom saved and framed for his bedroom wall as a harbinger of his fate. "My mom is like, ‘I'm putting it there so you can look at it every morning.’"

He is, however, mindful of his good fortune of having played in the Little Caesars hockey program as a youth.

"My earliest memory of hockey would be probably playing with my brother, Spencer, when I was 6 and he was 8," Mazur said recently while relaxing at a busy Starbucks in Jackson. "We were playing out of Optimist Ice Arena, which is right down the street. I remember our team jerseys were yellow and my dad was the coach."

Now retired, his father, Jeff, was a police officer for the city of Jackson. His mom, Erin, now an associate professor at Jackson College, was a practicing nurse. Carter and his brother attended Catholic schools, but discipline in the home was decidedly relaxed.

"My dad was actually pretty laid-back," Mazur said. "He felt like as long as you got good grades, when you did homework didn't matter. Finish it on your time. Just make sure you get good grades."

Mazur played other sports – golf, tennis, a little baseball – but it was clear that his destiny resided in hockey.

"Hockey was everything to me," he said. "Everything I wanted to do seemed to revolve around hockey, from mini-sticks in the basement to watching anything hockey-related. I went to a lot of Red Wings games. Darren Helm was my favorite player growing up because I liked how he played. I got a signed stick from him for my birthday."

At age 10, Mazur was invited to play in an international tournament in Edmonton, Alberta, where he played on a team coached by former Red Wings center Kris Draper.

"I feel like I was always a little more competitive because I was the smallest kid on the ice. I always had to find a way to get involved, especially with how small I was, so I feel like having that edge helped me a lot in my hockey career," Mazur said.

"It was crazy that Kris Draper was one of my coaches, how much he knows about hockey and just the people he brought out to skate with us -- guys like [Henrik] Zetterberg and [Pavel] Datsyuk. [Dylan] Larkin came out too, which is weird because I just skated with him two hours ago."

Even before his teens, Mazur was being taught what being a pro meant.

"I would say the best advice from Draper was just how to carry yourself away from the rink," Mazur said. "He wanted everyone to play the game the right way, but he was more focused on how you are as a person outside of the rink. He valued the idea of spending time with your teammates and growing that connection because that will make you better on the ice."

At age 17, Mazur left Jackson to play for the USHL's Tri-City Storm in Kearney, Nebraska.

Suddenly, Detroit seemed a long way away.

"It was probably the hardest year of hockey in my life,” Mazur said. "I went there thinking I'm one of the best players in AAA to being the 13th forward and getting scratched my first game. I had a lot to learn."

But the experience helped make him a better, well-rounded player. "It was a big change but I think it helped me grow as a player," he said. "I had to play different roles and not just be a skilled player. That's when I learned to penalty kill and use my other aspects of my game, building on my skills, and I think that was huge for me."

Mazur made significant inroads during his second season in the Cornhusker State. After recording only 13 points in 47 games during the 2019-20 season, his numbers jumped to 20 goals and 24 assists for 44 points in the same number of games.

Ironically, the aftermath of COVID-19 saw Mazur get bigger and stronger as he put on nearly 30 pounds while adding a few inches to his frame. "It was kind of a blessing for me because staying at home allowed me to benefit from my mom's cooking – she's a really good chef – while relaxing and working out like I do during the offseason."

His blossoming boosted his draft capital heading into the 2021 NHL Entry Draft. He was beyond thrilled when the Red Wings selected him in the third round with the 70th overall pick.

"I had talked to 23 teams and the Wings were probably the shortest interview," he said. "It was a weird feeling, just knowing that one of my dreams might come true. And then to see it was Detroit made it even more special, without a doubt."

Congratulatory calls soon followed.

"The first person to call me was Darren Helm,' Mazur said. "It's pretty awesome that I got a call from my favorite Detroit Red Wing welcoming me to the organization. Less than a week later, he signed with Colorado, but I'm going out to Colorado, too, which was weird but pretty awesome."

In a serious show of serendipity, Mazur had chosen to attend the University of Denver after previously committing to Michigan State University.

"I wanted to pick a school pretty quickly after I de-committed from Michigan State," he said. "I knew I had options. I already had my top five dialed in when my old assistant coach with Little Caesars reached out to me."

Craig Roehl, a long-time coach in the Little Caesars program, was an alumnus of Denver's 1978 WCHA championship team.

"He said, ‘Would you ever think about going to Denver?' I'm like, 'I have my top five, but yeah, if they want to talk to me, I'll talk.’ And then they reached out and I hopped on a Zoom call with them and right after the Zoom, I called my parents and told them that I was going to school in Denver."

Mazur went to Denver hoping to win a championship, and the Pioneers granted his wish. Denver won the 2022 NCAA Division I title by beating No. 1-ranked Michigan 3-2 in overtime, then crushing Minnesota State 5-1 in the title game. It was the ninth national championship in program history at Denver.

Two months later, Mazur watched the Colorado Avalanche win the Stanley Cup by ousting the Tampa Bay Lightning in six games.

"I saw a couple of Avalanche games, so to see Helm win a Cup with them was pretty cool," Mazur said. "I got to meet him with the Stanley Cup at one of their parties, which was pretty awesome. He's still one of my favorites, probably because of how hard he played, and that's how I like to play, too."

Mazur prides himself in being a 200-foot player who is strong at both ends of the ice. He's not afraid to go to the so-called "dirty areas" where scorers risk getting an elbow, shoulder, or stick to the chops. "I'm better when I'm playing physical, attacking the net and scoring down low. That's when I'm at the top of my game.

"I'm also a gritty player, someone who likes to get under people's skin. I don't care who you are. I love chirping. It's something I enjoy doing and it makes playing hockey a lot of fun."

Last season, Mazur returned to Denver for his second year at the school. After posting a 30-10-0-0 record in the regular season, the Pioneers got bumped out of the opening round of the NCAA tournament when Cornell shut them out 2-0.

The early exit meant that Mazur, who had upped his season goals from 14 to 22, could get a brief audition in Grand Rapids at the end of a disappointing campaign for the Griffins, who missed the playoffs for the second straight season.

Mazur was impressive, tallying three goals and three assists in six games with the Griffins.

"It was a different look at hockey for me because I walked into a locker room with people who had families and lives outside the rink, which was way different because I'm usually walking into the locker room with teammates who I’m hanging out with all the time. Now these guys have kids and all that goes with it.

"To get those six games under my belt was massive. I enjoyed playing back in my home state and having family around me, which is another plus for playing in Grand Rapids. I was there for three weeks and I had a blast, even though we were out of the playoff race. You got that vibe in the locker room, but I know this year will be a lot different with how many young guys we have and a new coach, so it'll be exciting."

Mazur is enthused about what lies ahead.

"My goal is to be in the NHL," he said. "My lifelong dream has been to play for the Detroit Red Wings. I know I'm close to it, but it's still far, far away. I want to be a really good player in the NHL. I don't want to be somebody who just sticks around for a couple of games and then is sent down. If I'm in Grand Rapids, I know I'm in a good spot because I want to be a player who sticks with the Red Wings for a long time."

Whether it's his destiny or not, getting to wear the fabled Winged Wheel is something he longs to experience.

"I can't even put into words what it would mean. That would be pretty special to do, especially for my hometown and everyone who supports me here in Jackson. It would be cool to give something back."

Mazur suffered a lower-body injury during the NHL Prospects Tournament, which wasn't quite the way he wanted to start the 2023-24 season. But fate doesn't always play nice with one's plans.

"I know that I've got to keep putting in the work," he said. "You've got to take everything day by day. Eventually, I know my opportunity will come and once I get that opportunity, I'm going to do my best to take advantage of it.

"I'm getting paid to play hockey, so I can't make any excuses if I'm not giving my all. I want to be one of the best and that's just how I have to play, that's how my mindset has to be. The work just started, but that's the good part because that's what I like.

"As long as I'm a hard worker, I think everything else will take care of itself."