Detroit Red Wings prospect Jared Coreau did what every AHL goalie dreams of doing — played in the NHL.
Coreau made his NHL debut Dec. 3 in a 5-3 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins. His next game wasn’t until Dec. 23, when he helped the Red Wings secure a 4-3 shootout win against the Florida Panthers for his first NHL win.
Overall, Coreau started in 14 games for the Red Wings with a 5-4 record, two shutouts and an .887 save percentage.
A Dream Come True
“It was everything I hoped for, and I got an opportunity to play,” Coreau told The Hockey Writers after he helped the Grand Rapids Griffins beat the Rockford Ice Hogs 5-3 on Friday at Van Andel Arena. “Coming back (to the AHL), it’s been beneficial being up there – different coaching. I always found benefits in having different goalie coaches who see different things and pick up on different tendencies that you are doing. It just makes your game better.”
The Red Wings certainly didn’t shelter the 25-year-old goaltender, as his first NHL game came against Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Phil Kessel and the Pittsburgh Penguins.
“It was exciting; it was a really good environment to play in,” Coreau said of playing in Pittsburgh. ”I was happy it was my first game against a couple of the best players in the world.”
Coreau got revenge on the Penguins on Jan. 14, securing a 6-3 win at Joe Louis Arena. He followed that with a 1-0 shutout win against Carey Price and the Montreal Canadiens two days later, in what he called one of his most memorable moments of his Red Wings experience.
Another highlight for Coreau was getting the call to play in the Centennial Classic on New Year’s Day at BMO Field in Toronto. The Red Wings lost 5-4 in overtime, but Coreau was happy to get a chance to play in the outdoor game.
“I wasn’t sure if I was going to get that game, Petr (Mrazek) being a veteran guy,” Coreau said. “But it was an honor for me to be a part of the Centennial Classic. Something my friend told me, he said, ‘There’s only going to be one Centennial Classic, and you were in it.’ Good to be a part of history.”
Lessons from Howard
Coreau said he valued the lessons he learned from Red Wings goalie Jimmy Howard, who missed 32 games for the Red Wings with an MCL sprain.
“I think in terms of pointers, Howie was a little more giving (than Mrazek), because he has been there longer, he’s older,” Coreau said. “Petr has been there much longer than I have too, but Petr and I are like a couple of chums, right? So, he and I are both learning from Howie.
Howie’s really good at talking to the guys, talking to the young guys. Even at camp, he talks to everyone. I like Howie a lot for that. Petr and I listen, and Petr and I work hard with him, so it’s good.”
So, what’s the biggest difference between the AHL and the NHL?
“Execution, I think guys up there capitalize on every mistake, where down here, you might get a couple of breaks,” Coreau said. “They could bobble a puck or miss a pass. Execution and speed, they can shoot it faster. Not so much harder, just get it off their stick faster than the guys down here.”
With the Vegas expansion draft coming up this summer, there’s rampant speculation on who the Golden Knights will choose as their goalie, with some thinking they would choose Coreau should the Red Wings protect Howard or Mrazek. Coreau said the team never talked to him about the possibility of being protected.
“No, I haven’t heard anything,” he said. “I don’t know what will happen. There’s lots of good goalies that are up for grabs. It will be exciting, I think some guys might be a little nervous going into that, but I think it will be good for the league.”
Now that Coreau is back in Grand Rapids likely for the rest of the season with the Red Wings unlikely to make the playoffs, he has one goal in mind.
“We want to win a Calder,” said Coreau, referencing the AHL’s championship trophy. “We want to get the big one. In terms of the regular season, just finish strong. Last year, I think we finished 3-10; we don’t want to do that. We want to go into the playoffs battle-tested, feeling good about our game. We want to go on a run; we want the big trophy.”
Filip Hronek Makes AHL Debut
Filip Hronek, a Red Wings second-round pick (53rd overall) in last summer’s draft, made his debut with the Griffins, and he couldn’t have had a worse start to his AHL career. On his second shift, Hronek attempted to catch a puck that caromed off the backboards, but he mishandled it, and it went behind Coreau in the net to give the Ice Hogs an early 1-0 lead.
“He got off to a rough start,” Griffins coach Todd Nelson said. “I think the first three or four shifts, he was trying to find his game; I bet you there were nerves. But as the game went on, he got better and better. He started to play with a bit more confidence in the second and third. He’s a young kid; it’s gonna take time. For a first game, I thought he was fine.”
Hronek said the bad bounce was hard to deal with, but he and the rest of the team were able to regroup in the second period. He also noted the higher level of difficulty in the AHL game compared to juniors.
“It was a hard game, we had a bad start to the game,” Hronek said. “We were better when we started to play in the second period.
“It’s a different level of hockey. In juniors, you play with younger guys. They are much better here.”
The Red Wings’ other second-round pick who was assigned to the Griffins, Givani Smith (46th overall), did not play Friday. Nelson said he wasn’t sure if Smith would see playing time this weekend.
“I’m not sure, yet. It’s a game-by-game basis,” Nelson said. “We’ll see where everyone is at. If we are put into a position where it doesn’t matter in the standings where we can’t move up or down, we’ll see a lot of these young guys.”
Tom Mitsos is a writer from Michigan who covers the Red Wings and the Red Wings’ AHL affiliate, the Grand Rapids Griffins, for The Hockey Writers.