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Published: Friday, 6/24/2011

Prospect Mahalak excited at opportunity

BY MARK MONROE
BLADE SPORTS WRITER
Matt Mahalak, a Monroe, Mich., native and goalie for the Plymouth Whalers of the OHL will hopes to be taken in the 2011 NHL Draft. Matt Mahalak, a Monroe, Mich., native and goalie for the Plymouth Whalers of the OHL will hopes to be taken in the 2011 NHL Draft.
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Monroe native Matt Mahalak will be surrounded by well-wishing, nail-biting family members as the young goaltender anxiously waits in the audience at the NHL draft in St. Paul, Minn. this weekend.

Mahalak hopes to hear his name called and then walk up on the stage at the XCel Energy Center. Mahalak, 18, is ranked eighth among North American goalies by the Central Scouting Service.

"I'm just trying to stay on an even keel," Mahalak said. "I'm just trying to stay relaxed and enjoy it as much as I can."

Projections have him being selected between the third and seventh rounds at the NHL draft, which begins Friday night at 7 with first-round picks. The second through seventh rounds will be held beginning at 11 a.m. Saturday. All rounds will be televised live on the NHL Network.

Mahalak left for St. Paul Thursday with his parents and siblings. He said other family members also will be with him for perhaps the biggest day of his life.

"I will be sitting there with my family," Mahalak said. "My grandma, aunts, uncles, and cousins will be there. They are all from the St. Paul area. It will be a big family affair.

"Hopefully my name is called and I get to make that walk up to the stage."

Mahalak was one of just eight goaltenders who were invited to the NHL Combine last month. He said he performed well in both the interviews and physical tests.

"I talked to eight to 10 teams that have shown interest," Mahalak said. "And other teams that don't meet with you can end up drafting you out of nowhere. That has happened a lot. I'm going in with an open mind."

Mahalak admitted that the odds of him being drafted in the first round are "slim to none."

"Maybe only one goalie or two, tops, will go in that first round and I'm ranked eighth so, the odds are very slim," he said. "I'm just hoping to hear my name called sometime Saturday."

Mahalak Mahalak
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Mahalak recently wrapped up his first season in the Ontario Hockey League where he played for the Plymouth (Mich.) Whalers. The 6-foot-3 and 180-pound goalie improved throughout his rookie season to earn a No. 8 ranking among draft eligible goalies.

Plymouth coach Mike Vellucci said he is "100 percent" sure Mahalak will be drafted.

"He had a good year at the end for us," Vellucci said. "It's hard to predict where he will go. Goalies are tough to predict."

The Plymouth organization has a rich tradition for developing goalies that were drafted by NHL teams. Michal Neuvirth of the Washington Capitals, and Justin Peters of the Carolina Hurricanes both played for Plymouth. Other recent Whaler goalies who were drafted include Jeremy Smith (Nashville, 2007), Matt Hackett (Minnesota, 2009), and Scott Wedgewood (New Jersey, 2010).

"I think NHL teams definitely respect the Whalers' ability to develop goalies," Mahalak said. "The last six have been top four-round picks. Teams understand that I will continue to develop and become a pro goalie. I think it helps my stock."

Former NHL goalies Fred Brathwaite and Robert Esche also played for Plymouth.

Mahalak backed up Wedgewood, who went through the draft process last June, this past season in Plymouth.

"He gave me some advice," Mahalak said "The biggest piece of advice is not to worry too much as the rounds go on. Some say it is very nerve racking seeing your peers drafted ahead of you. I'm going in with a good mindset and I'll try to not get too nervous."

Mahalak got to play last season with his older brother R.J., who is a left winger for the Whalers. But Matt had a slow start in his first season of major junior hockey. He finished with an 8-8-4 record with a 3.08 goals against average in 21 games. He had one shutout and a .908 save percentage.

Mahalak looks to join an elite group of Michigan born goalies that made names for themselves in the NHL. Ryan Miller (East Lansing, Buffalo Sabres) played at Michigan State, while Tim Thomas (Flint) led the Boston Bruins to the Stanley Cup this year.

Mahalak said he is hoping for the best and preparing for the worst.

"Some say I should go between the third and fourth rounds," he said. "But in my mind it is anywhere from second to seventh or even not at all. It's an imperfect science. I'm prepared to handle it."

Contact Mark Monroe at: mmonroe@theblade.com or 419-724-6354.



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