Buzzing The Net is profiling Canadian Hockey League players who are in their NHL draft season.
Tomas Jurco's teammates made sure he knew what he meant to them during their path to the MasterCard Memorial Cup.
It has become a rite in major junior hockey for teams to have T-shirts printed bearing a motivational slogan. Saint John, realizing how much the ever-elusive Jurco and Washington Capitals-drafted forward Stanislav Galiev added a certain zazz to the team's game, had theirs printed with a slogan written in Slovak on the front and Galiev's native Russian on the back.
"I felt really good about it," says Jurco, an 18-year-old native of Kosice, Slovakia who had four goals and five points in four Memorial Cup games to help Saint John become the first Maritime-based team to win the CHL title. "I didn't know it was coming. I saw the shirts and that it was in my language. I felt proud a little bit. A couple days before, our equipment manager showed me so I could fix up the grammar."
Jurco, while playing on the Sea Dogs second scoring line, counted somewhat modest numbers (31 goals, 56 points in 60 games) this season considering he's touted as a scorer. However, with him it's really more about expectation than realization. The sheer depth of YouTube-age showcasting his stickhandling derring-do shows no one is ever sure what move he'll try next, least of all opposing defencemen and goalies. While it is nice to add to Slovakia's reputation for turning out players with great one-on-one skills, Jurco is anxious to show he's not a novelty act and will grow into a well-rounded pro; it's worth noting that Team Slovakia used him as a penalty killer during the world junior championship even though he seldom did that with the Sea Dogs.
"I learned a different style of game, more defence and more physical," he says of his two seasons with Saint John. "It will really help me at the higher level."
Jurco, listed at 6-foot-2 and 187 pounds, was 20th among North America-based skaters in NHL Central Scouting's final rankings released in early April. He probably stays in the first round if there's a team which believes he'll learn to score more of those dirty-area goals from within a six-foot radius of the net.
1. What is the biggest difference between the hockey you knew growing up in Slovakia and playing junior in Canada?
"First of all, it's the size of rink. It's a lot bigger in Europe. It's more professional here. When I was home, I played junior, but it wasn't an official league like you see here. It was an okay league, but once you come here, you see how organized it is."
2. In your mind, what would scouts say is the biggest thing you have to work on between now and when you'll be on the cusp of turning pro?
"Probably improve my defensive play. I'm good offensively, but sometimes I'm missing my defence. Since I was little, I was always an offensive player. I did do things like be on the penalty kill, but since I came here [Saint John], the coaches have had different guys for penalty kill and the defensive side."
3. Whom in the NHL do you watch and think, 'that's someone I need to play more like?'
"There's lot of players. I like players like Marian Hossa, Marian Gaborik and Pavel Datsyuk."
4. Hockey players have to maintain strict diets, what's something you can't eat or drink too often but you have it anyways?
"I'm actually really picky with with food and there's lot of Slovakian food that I miss. I don't like eating rice, I don't like drinking water except when I have to, on the bench."
5. Favourite TV show or movie?"TV show? Prison Break. Movie, The Hangover."
Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Sports Canada. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet (photo: CHL Images).