School Of Hard Knocks

Veteran Players Lend A Hand To Help Next Generation Make It To The Show
Brian Lester

Tyler Murovich is on a mission during a Saturday night game in mid-March, skating hard with passion and purpose, his determination unmatched as he propels the Atlanta Gladiators to victory over the Greenville Swamp Rabbits.

Midway through the opening period of this ECHL showdown, Murovich nets his 17th goal of the season to send the crowd of 8,701 fans inside the Infinite Energy Arena into a frenzy.

He will add an assist and even shows off his physical play to cap off a stellar performance. Never mind that the Pittsburgh native isn't the biggest player on the ice, standing at only 5-feet-9 inches tall. He never backs down from a challenge, especially after an opposing player takes liberties with one of his teammates.

"I'm always a little feisty out there and play bigger than my size," Murovich said. "As a leader, it's about doing the right things out there, including sticking up for teammates. It's all part of the game."

It's also part of setting an example for younger teammates to follow, especially a rookie who is getting his feet wet in the pro hockey.

"Part of being a pro is showing up no matter what the circumstances are. It's about doing your job because you are getting paid to play hockey," Murovich said after helping the Gladiators snap a three-game losing streak.

"It's about showing up and giving everything you can. Teams go through ups and downs, but the message you want to give to young players is you can't worry about a tough stretch of games. You still have to do your job."

A pro since since the 2009-10 season, Murovich does his best to set an example for younger players, helping them along their hockey journey in hopes  that one day they may realize their dream of making it to the NHL.

Dan Vladar is one of those younger players. A goaltender drafted in the third round of the 2015 NHL Draft by the Boston Bruins, the native of the Czech Republic is in his first season as a pro, beginning the year with the Providence Bruins before heading to Atlanta. Vladar is one of the young players who has followed Murovich's lead.

"Derek Nesbitt and Tyler Murovich are doing a great job of helping me out," Vladar said. "They are always staying positive and helping me out with everything. I can see that they work extremely hard every day."

Vladar has high expectations on his shoulders. One prospect report in 2014 mentions he could become the next great goalie out of the Czech, following in the footsteps of players like Dominik Hasek and Tomas Vokoun.

Learning the ropes from a seasoned minor league hockey veteran like Murovich has helped his cause. Veteran players are even willing to stay after practice to help him make improvements to his game.

"Older guys are helping me out every single day in practice, and they are even staying longer after practice to do extra drills with me," Vladar said. "I know I can talk to them after every skate or any other time as well."

Murovich understands the sacrifices and hard work that goes into being successful in a sport where hard work is crucial to success. It's why he is so willing to help others out and recalls his time as a rookie nearly a decade ago.

"I was lucky enough to play with a lot of good players my first year," Murovich said. "They taught me about the little things, the attention you have to have to detail. Playing with older guys that are older and smarter than you also helps you learn more about the cerebral part of the game. Now that I am in that position as a leader, I am realizing how important it is to help out other players."

Part of that role includes helping young players adapt to switching teams and getting used to not only new teammates but to a new city as well.

Murovich understands the challenges that come with the sometimes unstable life of a minor league hockey player.

Between the 2010-11 campaign and this season, he has played for five different teams, with the 2014-15 season being the craziest as he divided his time between Gwinnett, Orlando and Wheeling.

He admits it's not easy dealing with it at times but he leans on his past experience to help others through the transition of moving to a new team.

"I tell players you have to find out where you fit in with every team you are on. Some teams may have you fit into a different role and take on different responsibilities. You may be counted on in a different way," Murovich said. "But being in those different roles helps you round out your game."

For Valdar, the adjustment comes with added challenges. For starters, he's only 19 years old. And being from another country means he has to get used to an entirely new way of life.

"This is my first pro season over here in the United States," Vladar said. "I am from Europe, so it was tough getting used to American food. "I've had help from my teammates. I'm learning a lot as I go along."

On this night in mid-March, Vladar is on the bench as Matt Ginn, a third-year pro out of Holy Cross, gets the starting nod for the Gladiators. Even on the nights when he's not playing, though, Vladar is paying attention, taking mental notes as he further develops his understanding of what it takes to succeed at the pro level.

"Every day is just a great day to get better and to learn from the older guys," Vladar said. "I enjoy every minute at the rink and I am always trying to improve myself as a person and as a player.

Murovich loves to see young players, particularly rookies, take pride in in putting in the work to be successful, and he enjoys doing his part to help them along on their journey. It's in his nature to lend a helping hand considering his work in the offseason coaching at the ice rink his family owns in the Steel City.            

At the same time, he remains focused on his own professional goals, including his pursuit of one day playing in the NHL.

"I am going to continue doing what I am doing and only worry about what I can control," Murovich said. "I'll keep playing hard every day and hopefully I'll get a chance to earn a call up. That's still my goal and it will be my goal as long as I am playing hockey."

Brian Lester is a freelance writer based out of Pensacola, Fla.




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