Last Tuesday night the Griffins beat the Chicago Wolves 2-1 in overtime, thanks to a great zone entry and no look pass from Marek Tvrdon that set Ryan Sproul up perfectly for the OT winner.
The good part starts when Ryan Sproul knocks the puck out of the air in the Griffins defensive zone, which allows the backchecking Marek Tvrdon to scoop up the loose puck and skate it into the Wolves' zone. Tvrdon enters the offensive zone on the right side, then makes a nice move to cut across to the left side of the ice, while protecting the puck from the Wolves defenseman. With Kevin Porter flanking his left and Ryan Sproul charging on his right (to the left of the goaltender), Tvrdon makes a perfect no look across the crease pass right to Ryan Sproul's stick and Sprouly makes no mistake, even with a Wolves defender on his backside.
Marek Tvrdon has been a great story this season and while he's had a challenging road to the pro level, he continues to persevere and rise to the challenges. Marek Tvrdon was leading the Vancouver Giants of the WHL in scoring early in the 2012 season, when pain in his shoulder was a symptom of something much more serious. Doctors found a blood clot in a vein in his left shoulder that required emergency surgery on November 12, 2012. They were able to dissolve the clot, but he also had a subsequent infection that complicated things, and he ended up needing one of his ribs removed as well. Early on, he was told by the doctors that they didn't know if he'd be able to continue playing hockey. Tvrdon missed the rest of the Giants 2012-2013 season, and when he came to the Wings Development Camp in July 2013 he looked stiff, rusty, and hesitant. He tried making the jump to the pro level with the Griffins / Walleye in the 2013-2014 season but he just wasn't ready. Missing almost an entire year of juniors and having to not only physically recover from such a scary event but also the mental aspects were just too much. The Wings made the decision in early January to send him back to his junior team to play his overage year. He racked up 27 points in 29 games with the Kelowna Rockets (Vancouver traded him to Kelowna) and looked like he was finally getting his game back. This season he started out with the new and improved Toledo Walleye and was on fire. He 24 points in 24 games, was 3rd on the team in scoring, and led all rookies in ECHL scoring at the time the Griffins called him up. In Grand Rapids this season he has 6 points in 6 games and looks better every time I watch him. Watching Tvrdon play before his surgery, and watching him play afterwards was a night and day difference, and I can't overemphasize how much I think the mental and physical challenges affected him. Going back to juniors last year was the best thing the Wings could have done. Between Toledo being a dumpster fire, and Tvrdon struggling to regain his form while also trying to move from juniors to pro, nothing good could have come from him staying in Toledo. I've been very impressed with how good he's been this year and I'm thrilled he's looking like Marek Tvrdon again. It's also nice that the Wings have such good forward depth that they can allow him to take more time if need be, and there's no pressure or rush.
Ryan Sproul has had a rough season so far, but he's starting to heat up. After only having 1 point in his first 18 games, he's had 10 points in his last 10 games. Being able to be relied upon defensively has been something he's been focused on improving since he came to the Griffins last season. He still has a bit to learn before he's what I'd call "adequate" defensively at the NHL level, but he has improved noticeably since the beginning of last season. I think his almost non existent offense to start this season was partially the result of him focusing on being more defensively responsibly, trying not to take as many risks, and trying to prove he can play "both ends of the ice" as the hockey world likes to say. Sprouly has very good offensive abilities, and once he can put those together with defensive skills that at least won't hinder his team at the NHL level, I think he's going to be very good. In many many respects, he's Brendan Smith 2.0. Remember Smitty's first season and a half with the Wings? The types of mistakes he made and the growing pains he had to go through are the sames ones Sproul will have to deal with. There's a lot of potential in Ryan Sproul, and timing of when he comes to the NHL it going to be important. He's not ready yet, but hopefully soon.