When Mark Zengerle won a share of the BCHL scoring title with Beau Bennett in 2010, his 87 assists were more than anyone has posted in the five seasons since.
Much has changed in that time. Zengerle completed an outstanding four-year NCAA career at the University of Wisconsin, signed a pro contract with the Detroit Red Wings and now finds himself in the American Hockey League playoffs with the Grand Rapids Griffins.
The native of Rochester, N.Y. showed enough in the regular season (15G, 22A) to garner a spot on the Griff’s first line along with center Andy Miele and left winger Tyler Bertuzzi. As you’d expect, it’s been an adjustment playing against professionals and even more so now in the playoffs where Grand Rapids is locked up in a tilt against the Utica Comets, the Vancouver Canucks affiliate.
“It’s definitely a step up, a level of urgency,” says Zengerle, 26. “And the one thing about the playoffs – guys play with more desperation. There’s more stuff after the whistle, more hacking and whacking.”
It’s the kind of stuff Zengerle needs to show he can deal with. At 5-foot-10 and 185 pounds, he considered a small player. But it was always Zengerle’s mind and vision that set him apart and he continues to use those attributes to his advantage.
“My strong suit is passing and being able to see the ice,” he says. “One thing that coach (Jeff) Blashill talks to me about is using my foot speed; you gotta get moving right away to make those plays.”
Blashill’s name has been mentioned a lot of late with Red Wings head coach Mike Babcock jumping to the Toronto Maple Leafs. You can count Zengerle among those that feel Blashill is a worthy choice to succeed Babcock in Detroit.
“He’s fun to play for; you want to win and play for him,” says Zengerle. “He does a great job of maintaining that fine line; he teaches but I’ve never seen him embarrass anyone. He just gets it.”
In addition to that, Blashill has been effective at keeping the team focused on the task at hand, which is winning the Calder Cup. There have been distractions from that objective with a lot of media and hockey folks speculating to the players that Blashill will be in the NHL next season.
“He’s done an incredible job of that,” says Zengerle. “Obviously, there have been a lot of reports, he told us (there would be) right after Babcock took the job.
“We’re focused on playoffs 100 per cent. We’ll worry about that later.” It’s just one of the things that ramps up in the pro game. How you manage it all is what determines whether you’ll stay or not. Zengerle believes he’s hurdled the obstacles well enough to prove he belongs. The organization must agree; they signed him to another one-year contract.
“I’m really happy with how first year went. There were a lot of adjustments to the pace of the game, the lifestyle.
I had to earn coaches trust and there were definitely struggles at times. A couple months into the year, I hit my stride and now I know how to prepare for next year.”
Not that he’s thinking too much about that just yet. He has a goal and nine helpers in 13 postseason games and is a +1. He gets first-unit power-play time, which is where he got his lone playoff marker to date.
The Griffins have dispatched the Toronto Marlies and Rockford Ice Hogs on the way to the Western Conference final. Now, Utica has a 2-1 series lead on the Griffins. Zengerle had a goal in Game 1 and an assist in Game 2.
“They have a really fast team and play similar to us,” he says. “We have been matched up against Cal O’Reilly, Alexandre Grenier and Nick Jensen. O’Reilly is a really good player. Great passer and puck-possession player.”
Stuff Zengerle will file away for future use. It gives him a bit of a yardstick as to where he wants to be for the 2015-16 campaign.
“So far my first year, I’ve done a good job of establishing who I am in the organization,” says Zengerle. “This summer going to be really important for me. I’ve gotten better just in my awareness, not only on the offensive side but on the D-zone too.
“I don’t think I’m ready yet but each year you learn a bit. I have goals in mind but I’m happy with how it (regular season) went. I’ve learned a lot.”
Canucks Alumni BCHL Scholarships 2014
Which BCHL alum still in the NHL playoffs do you most want to see win?