When Petr Mrazek was traded to the Blackhawks over the offseason, he had one goal in mind going into the 2022-23 campaign and that was to stay healthy while handling a starting workload. He dealt with groin injuries on three separate occasions last season with the Toronto Maple Leafs, the third of which sidelined him for six weeks, including the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
In July, Mrazek said he visited with many different specialists, physiotherapists and chiropractors to help get to the bottom of his injury issues. He ended up altering his offseason workouts and admitted he physically felt "really, really good."
But in just his third game of this season with the Blackhawks, Mrazek found himself back on the injured reserve list with the same kind of injury, although he didn't seem too concerned about it this time around.
"I feel really good actually," Mrazek said after Tuesday's morning skate. "When it happened, it wasn't as bad as it was last year. I was just trying to be careful with it."
Mrazek looked a little uncomfortable in the final minute of the second period against Detroit on Oct. 21 before exiting at the start of the third, but the injury actually happened 12-13 minutes prior. He gutted out the rest of the second period because he didn't want to see Alex Stalock thrust into the game without any time to prepare.
"I talked to Stals on the bench with like six minutes left and I was like: 'I'm going to try and grind it out,'" Mrazek said. "Because I know how it feels to go in the net with four or five minutes left in the period."
The only frustrating part for Mrazek wasn't the injury itself. It's how it happened.
"It happened from nothing pretty much," Mrazek said. "I just went down and I felt something a little bit in the groin. It wasn't a big save or anything, that's why I wanted to be careful to make sure everything was alright."
Mrazek believes in the work he put in over the summer and feels like, over time, his groin injuries won't become a consistent issue. It just might take time to fully get to that point.
"To be honest, it wasn't frustration at all this time because the things I'm doing, I believe it's going to turn around and the thing's not going to be happening," Mrazek said. "I put everything into it, and that's why the frustration wasn't there this time."
The Blackhawks are playing it safe with Mrazek, and rightfully so. It's early in the season and there's no point in rushing him back from an injury that's plagued him four times over the last year.
Mrazek is inching closer to a return, though, skating for the first time on Sunday and joining his teammates for Tuesday's morning skate. The early target date appears to be the West Coast trip next week.
After Saturday's afternoon game in Winnipeg, the Blackhawks have four days off before heading to Los Angeles, which means they'll be able to take advantage of those practice days and get Mrazek back up to game speed.
"It's going to be great for everybody," Blackhawks head coach Luke Richardson said. "A little bit of a break but especially for him to get a few practices in and try to ramp him up a little bit. It’ll be slowly, but it’ll be nice to get that break."
In the end, Mrazek is just grateful his absence lasted only a week and a half to this point. Now he's just itching to pick up where he left off.
"I'm glad it wasn't bad," Mrazek said. "I'm looking forward to turning the page and continuing where I left it and enjoy some hockey."
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