GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — The Grand Rapids Griffins have been without No. 1 goaltender Petr Mrazek since Nov. 6, when Jonas Gustavsson went down with a dislocated shoulder for the Detroit Red Wings.
Mrazek was called up, which meant Toledo Walleye goalie Jared Coreau got the call-up from the Griffins, and he’s made the most of his opportunity splitting time with Tom McCollum.
In six games with the Griffins, Coreau is 6-0-0-0 with a 1.29 GAA and .955 save percentage. He picked up his first home win of the season in a 7-1 win Friday night against the Toronto Marlies and followed that up with a 4-3 win against Lake Erie on Saturday. At 6-foot-4, 208 pounds, he’s a big body in the net, much like Ben Bishop of the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Coreau admitted he was a bit nervous to perform in front of the home fans Friday.
“I was actually,” he said. “I felt kind of jittery. I think some fans might have saw that in the first couple of minutes there. A couple of plays where I mishandled it, but kind of settled in and it’s just another game.
“I was excited to play for sure.”
The Griffins made sure their goalie faced as little resistance as possible. Coreau only faced 23 shots against Toronto and didn’t have to make any highlight reel saves. He was solid throughout the night, with the one goal coming off a Brennan Evans turnover behind the net that Coreau had no chance to get to.
Coreau said he set high expectations for himself this summer, but admits the six straight wins was above his expectations.
“In the summer, I had high expectations,” he said, “and I hold myself accountable now — a lot more than last year. The exhibition games I had here, they weren’t good and down in Toledo weren’t good. Surpassing them for sure, that would be a pretty accurate statement.
“I don’t know if I’ve ever strung together these kinds of games before with the goals-against average and save percentage.”
Coreau said the tutelage of McCollum and Mrazek have been helpful in improving his game.
“Tommy has been a big support,” he said. “Like last year, when I was going through all the stuff I was, he was always there first tapping me on the pads and tell me everything is going to be okay.
“Mrazek, I got to be with here with him probably about a month-and-a-half ago when he came down. That really showed me you got to make some big saves late — he had some big saves in that overtime (win) against Texas. Definitely learned from both of them.”
Griffins coach Jeff Blashill also noted Coreau wasn’t tested a lot on Friday night but added he made key saves when he had to.
“Five wins and he wasn’t tested tons (Friday night), but he also didn’t let any easy goals in,” Blashill said. “I think that’s a big thing to not give the other team any momentum. I thought he made a couple of key saves in key moments.
“When your team’s playing good in front of you and you don’t ever let an easy goal in, it just really it makes the game, I guess for lack of a better work, much easier.”
Backman Leaves for Sweden
Mattias Backman, the Red Wings’ fifth round pick in 2011, has decided to return to Sweden. The 6-foot-3, 176-pound defenseman was unhappy with the amount of playing time he was getting in Grand Rapids and felt he was taking a step back by not getting playing time in the AHL, according to MLive.com’s Peter J. Wallner.
Backmanwas listed as a healthy scratch for Friday night’s game, but he already had returned to Sweden, where he will play in the Swedish Hockey League.
Backman told Wallner:
“I play almost four years in Swedish league and played on national teams, so it’s kind of weird you don’t play here. In my opinion, the Swedish league is much better than here. But it’s like different hockey, so it’s hard to compare. You have to get used to the smaller rinks.”
Unfortunately for Backman, the Red Wings have a number of talented prospects on defense on the Griffins with Xavier Ouellet, Ryan Sproul, Nick Jensen and Alexey Marchenko. Backman is a talented player, but he was with an organization that already had a surplus of great defensive prospects.
Blashill said he was disappointed Backman decided to leave, but also noted he won’t beg players to stay who don’t want to stay.
“I think anytime anybody, as a coach, leaves your team, it’s disappointing,” he said. “You want to create a culture where guys love being here, and so I was disappointed that, for whatever reasons, personal reasons, he decided to go home.
“But with that said, as I said to our guys, I want guys that want to be here. I’ve never believed in begging guys to be part of our program.”
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Tom Mitsos is a Detroit Red Wings and Grand Rapids Griffins staff writer for The Hockey Writers. You can follow him on Twitter @tom_mitsos.