TORONTO- While the Maple Leafs mull over their big league goaltending options, Mark Owuya is doing his bit to be noticed in the minors.
Leafs goaltending guru Francois Allaire already likes what he sees in the young Swede.
“Mark is making great progress for us,” said Allaire. “At training camp everything was brand new. I think he was surprised by the speed of the game here. But Mark is a really smart goalie. Right when he went to Reading (of the East Coast Hockey League) he started off very well. He’s playing his positioning really well, he’s stopping a lot of shots and we are very happy.”
The 22-year-old goaltender from Stockholm signed a two-year entry-level contract with the Leafs in April 2011, arriving with good credentials after his stint in the Swedish Elite League.
“Mark was the best goalie in Sweden last year for a full season,” said Allaire. “His save percentage and goals against average were better than any other goalie over there. We knew we had a good prospect in our hands.”
Playing the 2010-11 season for Djurgardens, the six-foot-two, 200-pound Owuya had an impressive .926 save percentage and 2.18 goals-against-average in 32 games.
He started this season with the Reading Royals of the ECHL, going 7-1-3 in 12 games with a 2.78 goals-against-average and a .929 save percentage.
Owuya (pronounced O-woo-Ya) is currently on his second stint with the Toronto Marlies of the American Hockey League. Sharing time with Ben Scrivens, he is 8-5-1 with a 2.15 goals-against-average and .924 save percentage in 15 appearances.
Owuya sees his role with the Marlies as being pretty simple.
“I assume it’s the same as last time I was here,” he said. “Just come and work your tail off every day and try to stop every shot.”
Away from the rink, Owuya uses his spare time to escape into the world of arts — he appeared on Sweden’s version of “American Idol” when he was just 16.
But when it comes to hockey, he is all business and proves it at every practice — often staying out by himself for an additional 45 minutes fine-tuning his skills.
“To me it’s my duty to be my best,” he said after taking extra time to work on controlling the puck behind the net. “I want to get as good as I can.”
Owuya knew when he signed with Toronto that he would start at the bottom end of the goalie depth chart. But he said he believed he would learn more with the Leafs.
“When I signed here there were a couple of other teams that I was talking to but the biggest reason for signing was Francois was here and that would help me,” said Owuya, who first met Allaire at a camp held in Switzerland prior to signing with Toronto.
“What I felt is that out of all the teams I could sign with, this was the one that could get me places. Here I knew for sure I could get to work with him and I for sure would be a better goalie.”
Overall, it’s been a positive year for the young Swede but his playing time with the Marlies may soon change.
The club will likely ride Scrivens as its No. 1 heading into playoffs. As a result, Owuya is expected to return to the ECHL to see more playing time.
“Mark will finish the season over there (Reading),” said Allaire. “He gets lots of action there and he’s going to try to make the playoffs with that team.”
*This story was written and published for The Canadian Press