Tuesday, April 22, 2008


Jan Mursak-Belleville Bulls' Rising Star

by James Hurst

In 1991, Slovenia seceded from Yugoslavia. That led to a difficult period of time for the tiny independent country, but it has recently recovered with the development of small and medium sized business. Also since that time, the country has sent two wonderful hockey players to the city of Belleville.

Branko Radivojevic came to the Bulls in 1998, and was part of the Championship team the following year. Since then, he has played more than 400 games in the National Hockey League with Phoenix, Philadelphia, and Minnesota. A rugged right winger, he can often be found in the corners, doing whatever is necessary to get the puck to his linemates.

Jan Mursak came to the Belleville Bulls at the trading deadline in January of this year. A couple of weeks later, he celebrated his twentieth birthday. It was a significant trade for the Bulls, as they gave up goalie prospect Edward Pasquale, a former Wellington Duke, centre Brendan Taylor, and two draft picks. In return, the Bulls received a solid defenceman in Nigel Williams, and goalie Parker Van Buskirk.

In a recent playoff game against the Oshawa Generals, Van Buskirk left the bench to take over goaltending duties for Mike Murphy who had a shaky start. The Bulls were down 3-0 early in the first period. Van Buskirk shut the door on the Gens, and the Bulls stormed back to score four times to steal the victory.

Many of the hockey pundits in Section 12 at the Yardmen Arena in Belleville believe that Mursak has been the key player in that trade. He has quietly won the hearts of many Bulls fans, especially with his great skating ability. Many times since his arrival in Belleville, Mursak has blown by unsuspecting defencemen to create excellent scoring opportunities. He is difficult to separate from the puck, working well from corner to corner in the offensive zone. He has played an important role on the power play, and kills penalties.

Certainly, the loss of Shawn Matthias has hurt the Bulls. You simply cannot take a player of NHL calibre out of the lineup of a junior hockey club without significant effect; however, Mursak has more than adequately filled the hole Matthias vacated when he went down with tonsillitis, then mononucleosis.

Mursak is thrilled to be playing hockey in Canada. He spent his first season in Saginaw with the Spirit, racking up 27 goals and 80 points in his rookie season. He had spent the previous season in the Czech Republic, Slovenia’s neighbour. He believed that he would never had the opportunity to improve his game to the same level in Slovenia. The closest hockey community to his home town of Maribor is Graz, Austria, only thirty miles away. Brent Gretzky and several other Canadians have toiled at the game in that city.

Maribor is one of those delightful small European cities with plenty to offer: castles, a picturesque town square, a large river, mountains nearby. It has had its share of woe, having been overridden by German forces in both World Wars.

A little Google research led me one of its more remarkable citizens: Leon Stukelj. Leon was a gymnast who won six Olympic medals- three gold, two silver, and one bronze, when he was thirty-eight in Berlin in 1936. He was one of the oldest celebrants when the Games were held in Atlanta in 1996. He worked as a judge in Slovenia, and died four days shy of his one hundred and first birthday in 1999.

Another athlete who has crossed the Atlantic from Slovenia is Sasha Vujavic. Born in 1984, he is an excellent three point shooter for the Los Angeles Lakers of the NBA.

As can be expected, most of the professional athletes from Slovenia are soccer players. There are several playing in cities throughout Europe, and around the world.

When Mursak came to Belleville, he told The Intelligencer that he hoped that “his quickness would pay dividends on the Olympic sheet ice at the Yardmen Arena. I like the big ice. I think I am a pretty good skater and can use more of my speed here.” Drafted in the sixth round of the 2006 draft by the Detroit Red Wings, Mursak will have plenty of opportunity to display his skating ability in the weeks ahead.

On Wednesday night, the Bulls have an opportunity to complete another round of playoffs. They lead the Generals by three games to one. The Bulls disposed of the Barrie Colts and the Peterborough Petes in the first two rounds. Depending on the result of the Kitchener series with Sault Ste Marie, the Bulls are not too far from securing a berth in the Memorial Cup.

The Yardmen Arena will be rocking Wednesday night. The Bulls have come a long way in their quest for this championship. A remarkable season indeed for the entire organization. It will be standing room only, with every corner filled with fans. For those of you not fortunate enough to get a ticket, the game will be on the Cogeco network as well as on the Quinte Broadcasting radio network. I am almost certain that people in Kingston will hear the “Go Bulls Go” chant. Maybe even a few in Slovenia, depending upon the wind direction!

James Hurst

Great article James and right on! Mursak has become a very key player for the Bulls. I continue to watch him pour on his jets with awe as I swear he must have little turbo chargers in his skates. I don't believe anyone in the league can accelerate faster than he can.

Good job. Maybe you should add Anže Kopitar as our biggest star and 5 NBA players to the list.
When you say Slovenia is the Czech Republic's neighbor, I'm wondering if you are thinking of Slovakia. Two different countries - kinda like Austria and Australia. :-)

Slovakia is Czech's next-door neighbor, but actually Slovenia isn't terribly far away.

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