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Skipjacks get extra firepower from Jiranek, other young guns


Even when Skipjacks coach Barry Trotz spoke glowingly of his "Young Guns" before the season, he didn't imagine the rookies would be so productive.

Offensive-minded kids, Trotz called them. Skillful. Quick. Upbeat. But inexperienced.

As the Skipjacks prepare for games against the Utica Devils tonight and tomorrow night at the Baltimore Arena, Trotz notes with pride that he has five players among the American Hockey League's top 10 rookie scorers.

"It's a great sign, the way these kids in the [Washington] Capitals' organization are standing up against the rest of the rookies," Trotz said.

Six games into the season, Martin Jiranek has four goals and five assists for nine points, and Jeff Nelson also has nine on a goal and eight assists. They're followed by Steve Konowalchuk (2-6-8), Keith Kones (5-2-7) and Mike Boback (1-6-7).

Jiranek is off to a strong start, in part because he made a wise decision after his final season at Bowling Green University last March. He was about to leave with a few college friends for Florida on spring break when the phone rang.

"My agent said the Skipjacks wanted to look at me," said Jiranek, a 23-year-old Canadian.

Drafted by the Capitals after his sophomore year, Jiranek didn't sign because he felt his hockey career would benefit more if he completed his college career.

It was a different matter last spring. His college career was over. Forget spring break. Report to the Skipjacks.

"Those two weeks with the Skipjacks at the end of the AHL season helped me," said Jiranek, who had two goals and eight assists in eight games. "I won a contract based on that. If I hadn't reported, I wouldn't have gotten as long a look in training camp this year because there were a lot of centers coming in."

Some players won't try out without a contract. Jiranek was willing to take the gamble.

"He accepted the challenge," Trotz said, "and won the job."

He was offered a contract at the end of the AHL season. "I played the right card," Jiranek said.

Some Canadians choose junior hockey as the pathway to the NHL but Jiranek chose the college route.

"College hockey has a quicker tempo and the players are older and the hitting is harder," Jiranek said. "When I was 18, I was 160 pounds. I needed those extra years to build myself up. Putting on 25 pounds in four years of college made a huge difference. I'm twice the player I was before."

That has not escaped the attention of the Skipjacks and the rest of the AHL.

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