2003 - 2004
February 26, 2004
After four seasons of junior hockey and five as a pro, Greensboro Generals forward Mike Bayrack has put together his best year, scoring 30 goals and proving he is...
COMING OF AGE
BY LARRY KEECH
Mike Bayrack, the Generals 25-year-old forward, is in his first full season with the team.
Webmaster's Note: Photo should have been of Mike Bayrack; however, it was a picture of Derik Crimin.
GREENSBORO - When any athlete puts together a "career year," it usually is a result of the convergence of a number of factors - individual maturity, compatible teammates, solid coaching, to name a few.
Those are the primary reasons why Mike Bayrack's fifth season of pro hockey is shaping up as his best. Seventeen games from the end of the 72-game ECHL regular season, the 25-year-old Greensboro Generals forward has surpassed his career high, with 30 goals. What's more, the Generals have scored 11 more goals than their opponents when he's been on the ice.
"Mike is combining his exceptional speed and skill with the kind of grit that brings a unique element to our team," said Matt Turek, Bayrack's teammate and roommate. "He's capable of changing a game in a single shift."
Bayrack is gifted with the kind of skating speed that can't be coached. And now, after four seasons in junior hockey and five as a pro, he has learned to exploit it fully.
"Speed is a natural asset," Bayrack said. "It provides a player with an element of surprise by making it easier to come from behind a play and catch opponents off-guard."
In Bayrack and Matt Elich, Generals coach Rick Adduono can call on two of the ECHL's fastest skaters to provide a tactical boost for the team's offense.
"When one or both of them is on the ice, the defenseman has to back off and play deeper," Adduono said. "He can't afford to tighten the gap or one of those guys will blow past him."
Bayrack is playing the way he once dreamed about when he was a pre-teenager back home in Edmonton during the 1980s, when he and his father, Kim, reveled in the Edmonton Oilers' five Stanley Cup championships. Among the mainstays of those teams were Wayne Gretzky, Mark Messier, Paul Coffey, Jan Kurri and goalie Grant Fuhr.
"My dad is a welder by trade, but he was a huge Oilers fan, and he coached all my teams until I was 13 years old," Bayrack said.
Instead of playing college hockey, Bayrack spent four seasons as a junior player in the Western Hockey League with teams called the Lethbridge Hurricanes, the Medicine Hat Tigers and the Prince George Cougars. Injuries dogged him until the last of those four seasons, 1998-99, when he scored 37 goals to earn an opportunity with the ECHL's Jackson (Miss.) Bandits.
Bayrack also played briefly. for the Generals in 2000, just long enough to gain a favorable impression of Greensboro.
He spent most of the next two seasons in the United Hockey League, including a 29-goal season with the Muskegon Fury that earned him a brief stint in the AHL.
Bayrack joined the ECHL's Toledo Storm last season before Adduono swung a trade-deadline deal to bring him back to Greensboro. A mutually beneficial coach-player relationship has resulted.
"Toledo was affiliated with an AHL team in the same city, and the situation was unsettled with players moving up and down," Bayrack said. "I asked for a trade, and I chose Greensboro because I liked the city and Rick had done his homework on me. I appreciated his trust and confidence in me."
During the current season, Bayrack has fulfilled his end of the bargain he made with Adduono during an offseason meeting.
"We talked about Mike's role in the goal of winning a championship," Adduono said. "I told him that 30 goals should be an easy plateau for him to reach. He's helped our team in a lot of ways besides scoring. Even though he's primarily a left wing, he's played every line position. He's taken double shifts and excelled as a penalty killer and in four-on-four situations."
Bayrack credits Adduono and the ECHL veteran Turek for helping him master the mental side of the game.
"I've learned how to adapt to different situations, maintain my focus on how I'm playing and improve my leadership skills," Bayrack said.
Away from the ice, Bayrack says he and Turek spend more time talking about hockey than playing golf, following the Nextel Cup circuit and arguing about divergent tastes in TV shows.
"He prefers bad sci-fi thrillers, and I'm a C-SPAN and documentary junkie," Turek said.
After what he still hopes will be a strong playoff run for the Generals and before he embarks on a post-hockey career as a sports nutritionist or a trainer, Bayrack should get another shot at higher-level hockey.
"He's capable of becoming an impact player in the AHL and, eventually, the NHL," Adduono said.
Contact Larry Keech at 373-7080 or firstname.lastname@example.org