Ryan Kujawinksi is one of eight first-year players on the Devils roster.
ALBANY, NY — Every team in the AHL has its fair share of rookies, and the Albany Devils are no exception.
With a limit on the amount of veterans that can suit up in an AHL lineup, the youngsters have gone through a trial by fire in the pro game. After the first half of the season, it’s fair to say the new Devils have passed their first test.
The Devils currently sit second in the North Division with 54 points after a dramatic 3-2 overtime victory over the Hersey Bears on Wednesday night, and their coach is happy with the way the season has gone for his rookies.
“They’ve all been great to work with, they’re all kids that are eager to learn and come to the rink with their heads in the right place every day,” said coach Rick Kowalsky.
The challenges young players have when joining the AHL are daunting and plentiful. Long bus rides, games on two or three consecutive nights, and adjusting to new teammates are just some of the struggles that most players go through.
“I think that’s a big adjustment,” Kowalsky added. “Just everything from managing bank accounts and paying bills to preparing your own meals and making sure you have proper nutrition.”
One Devil whose story is unique is 23-year-old defenseman Vojtech Mozik. After playing the past three seasons as a pro in the Czech Republic, Mozik came to America with NHL dreams.
The first few months of the season have presented changes for Mozik, both on and off the ice.
“The AHL is faster, quicker, and you have a smaller rink here so your decision must be quicker,” Mozik said.
Mozik has made the adjustment so far and his coach is pleased with what he sees.
“His overall play has been a pleasant surprise,” Kowalsky said of Mozik.
Off the ice, Mozik is still learning.
“It’s different from Europe. Everything is bigger. If you go to a restaurant, you have a lot of different choices for a meal,” Mozik joked.
Ryan Kujawinski joins the Devils after four seasons in the OHL where he produced nearly a point per game. He isn’t at that pace in Albany yet, but he knows he still has more to learn.
“You’ve really got to watch the skilled guys on the team and see what they do and try to learn off them and try to work on your skills,” Kujawinski said. “Just learning and trying to learn as much as you can that first year will help you.”
Fellow rookie Blake Pietila agrees that watching and learning from the veterans can be a good way to improve your game.
“I think just the way they practice,” Pietila said of the veterans. “You come to the rink and you’re not ready to practice, some of the guys might let you know. That’s been helpful.”
After completing his senior season at Brown last spring, Matt Lorito got a cup of coffee in Albany to close out the 2014-15 season. In 11 games with Albany, he registered his first 12 pro points.
This season, he is still at a point per game pace as the AHL’s leading rookie scorer with 34 points.
“I think the time I spent here at the end of last year definitely helped me get an idea of what the league was like and what I needed to work on over the summer to be a successful player in this league,” Lorito said.
In the midst of a long season, Lorito knows he will need to work harder to keep this pace up.
“I think the grind of the schedule is taking its toll halfway through the year,” he said. “This is where you need to keep pushing through and keep coming to the rink with a good attitude and working hard every day.”
Although the Devils snapped their losing streak on Wednesday night, they have lost five of their past six games and will need to turn things around as the playoffs draw near. They know what needs to be done to accomplish that goal.
“Just getting back to playing to our identity as a team which is hard to play against and real tight defensively,” Kowalsky said. “This is a good growth period for us to try to find a way out of this.”
The Devils will look to win their second straight on Friday night when they host the Utica Comets at Times Union Center.