The hockey season made it's official return Friday night at the South Okanagan Event Centre as the Calgary Flames prospects rallied from a two-goal deficit to open up the Young Stars Tournament with a 6-4 victory over the kids from the Winnipeg Jets.
From my vantage point in the makeshift press box (which was more of a 'press table') set up on the top level at the Flames attacking end, here's my take on what I saw and what I heard in the dressing room afterwards.
The Post-Game Six-Pack
1. They've Got Spunk. Still.
You remember the Calgary Flames, right? That charming group that always insists on playing close games as if it's a requirement written into the CBA. Well, nothing has changed.
For a while it didn't look very good. Sloppy in their own end, the Flames were outshot 12-5 in falling behind 1-0 after one period. They trailed 3-1 and 4-2 at points in the second before roaring back to tie it 4-4 after 40 minutes.
The game-winner came 6:09 into the third when Markus Granlund's shot was stopped by Connor Hellebuyck but the juicy rebound into the slot was rattled home with authority by Michael Ferland. One-goal games is what we came to expect from the Flames last year and this one was yet another until Josh Jooris put the game on ice with his second goal of the night, this one into an empty net.
2. Get Excited About Ferland
Michael Ferland was playing the finest hockey of his career. On a tear offensively in Abbotsford with 18 points (6 goals, 12 assists) in 14 games, the whispers were that he was the next guy to be recalled when Calgary needed to bring up a forward.
But then suddenly, his season was over. The severity was not known immediately but a bad knee injury in practice in early December would eventually lead to season-ending surgery for the 6-foot-2, 215 pound left winger. It was a disappointing ending to a season that was a real bounce-back year for him, beginning with when he nearly made the Flames out of training camp.
Ferland was hard on himself about how his return went Friday night. "I thought everything was really quick and I felt like I was one step behind," said Ferland, who reported his knee felt just fine. "I got in a few licks on guys but wasn't too comfortable. A little late, a little slow."
But he was the only one thinking that. My goodness kid, it was your first game in over nine months.
Coach Ryan Huska saw Ferland's game through the same lens that I did and that was a guy that was involved physically and around the puck a lot as an integral part of what was the Flames best line with Granlund at centre and Jooris on the right side. That trio generated 17 of Calgary's 34 shots.
"I thought Michael was good and for a first game in a long time," Huska said. "Coming off his knee injury, I thought he was involved physically. And the nice part about his game is he's got a little bit of offensive ability to back-up the physical side of his game. I thought he was a presence out on the ice."
3. In Arnold We Trust
It's easy to get caught up in the alluring qualities of speed, strength and skill up the middle that the Flames have in rising stars Sam Bennett, Sean Monahan and Granlund. However, don't sleep on Bill Arnold. While he doesn't bring the same cachet offensively as those three, there are some really nice attributes to Arnold's game that are important ingredients when building a winning team.
Those who watch a lot of NCAA hockey will rave about Arnold's defensive game. I heard him described once last year as the best defensive forward in the country. He's far from a one-dimensional player in that regard as he put up some nice offensive numbers the last couple years as a linemate of Johnny Gaudreau. However, I really think if Arnold is going to reach the NHL one day, he'll do so as a one of those very dependable defensively-sound centres like Stephane Yelle or what Matt Stajan is evolving into.
It seems Huska has already recognized that.
When the Jets got a 58-second two-man advantage in the first period, it was the Flames No. 46 that got the tap on the shoulder. Despite having possession of the puck for the entire time, Winnipeg didn't generate any good scoring chances with much of the credit going to Arnold, the high man in the triangle. Constantly shuffling his feet, keeping an active stick, constantly getting in the shooting lanes. Aided by defencemen Keegan Kanzig and Patrick Sieloff, it was a big kill.
"It might sound weird but I really enjoy killing penalties and getting down there and having a chance to block a shot. I love it," said Arnold, who is 22 years old. "I take a lot of pride in my defensive responsibilities. I love killing 5-on-3's, I love killing penalties so I loved the opportunity to get out there."
4. Demolition Man: Keegan Kanzig
Certainties in life: Death and taxes.
Certainties at the rink: A Gaudreau highlight-reel play, a thundering Keegan Kanzig bodycheck.
The more I see this guy, the more I like him. And you get the sense the Flames are thinking the same thing. The Flames third round pick from 2013 was his usual menacing patroller of the Calgary blue-line on Friday, waking the Ogopogo out of a slumber late in the first period with a glass-rattling, arena-shaking body check on Brenden Kichton.
Kanzig is a physical presence all the time when he's on the ice and while he's not Scott Niedermayer on his skates, he's not bad. I'm always surprised at the foot speed and agility that he does show.
Standing 6-foot-6 and a chiselled 245 pounds, Kanzig is no peacemaker, that's for certain. If there's a skirmish, he's the first guy in. If there isn't a skirmish, you can count on him to incite one. For the sub-6-foot guys like Gaudreau and Granlund especially, it must be awfully nice to know that this guy has your back. He doesn't play favourites either. At one point, he exchanged shoves with 6-foot-5 Adam Lowry, son of Kanzig's head coach in Victoria, ex-Flames forward Dave Lowry.
If this guy develops into an NHL player -- second pairing a remote possibility, third pairing more likely, goodness the Flames will have themselves a real find. Huska thought Kanzig was one of the Flames top players on Friday.
"Keegan Kanzig had a good game," the coach said. "For us to lose a defenceman (Eric Roy) really early on, and those five guys having to play the ice time that they did have to play. Keegan in particular was really good tonight. He played the game smart, he played it hard."
5. Gaudreau Doing his Usual Thing
As advertised, Johnny Gaudreau was once again fun to watch. Plus, when the team needed it, he delivered a highlight reel goal that turned around the game's momentum.
Down 4-2 at the time, Gaudreau hopped over the bench as Morgan Klimchuk came off on a change, pounced on a loose puck at the blue-line and ripped into the Jets end so fast that poor defenceman Nikolas Brouillard had no idea what had just happened.
Here's what happened, Nikolas, that red and black blur was No. 53.
"I just stuck it between the guy's legs and took a little shot on net. Luckily it went in." That was Gaudreau afterwards, doing an absolutely deplorable job at describing his sensational goal. That "little shot" he spoke of was this ridiculous topshelf backhand he somehow zipped over the goalie's shoulder and in off the crossbar -- all while in mid-flight.
If you missed it, watch it again right now and why not.
As I Tweeted afterwards, he was absolutely flying. He looked like a kid racing out the doors of a 7-Eleven after stealing a chocolate bar.
Bill Arnold's recollection of the play was far more accurate.
Josh Jooris offered a similar review.
"That's Johnny Hockey right there. I saw it a lot at college," Jooris said. "That's just him. He's just an unbelievable player. When he gets a chance, he's going to do some damage to you."
"On the plane ride here, I was sitting with Sam Bennett and a bunch of this year's draft picks, all 1996 birth years. When I asked them them how old they are, it's like... oh... okay then... maybe my time here is running out a little bit," said Jooris, with a chuckle. "Obviously there are younger guys coming in and I am getting to the brink here where I have to make the most of my chance."
"I was pretty pleased to see him as my centreman. He's a great player, he's got really gifted hands. He's just a really smart guy," Jooris said. "I've always kind of been a playmaker but playing with him, it's find an open area and he's going to get you the puck. He makes it easy."
"I was really pleased with my first year as a pro. It was obviously an adjustment at first but a great coaching staff really helped me out along the way. Coming into this year, I'm really looking forward to having that experience under my belt. That really goes a long way. I'm an older guy here so I'm going to use that knowledge."
"Honestly, as a college player coming into it, I had a great camp and I was on a real high and I underestimated the development curve," said Jooris, who had 27 points (11 goals, 16 assists) in 73 games. "It takes some time. Working hard down there and learning the game, but it's going to go a long way."
Recent Related Flames Reading
- Penticton 2014: Ten Calgary Flames Story Lines to Follow - Here's a summary of what to watch for this weekend, from the rekindling of the Battle of Alberta, to the battle to become top defenceman prospect, to the early auditions for forwards jobs in Calgary and the team's ongoing quest for truculence.
- Penticton 2014: Ten Prospects (not named Johnny Gaudreau) to Watch - Johnny Gaudreau is obvious, you always keep your eye on him. But who else should you be watching out for? Here are min profiles of 10 Flames prospects (or invitees) that I am intrigued to see play in the Young Stars rookie tournament.
- 2014-15 Calgary Flames Roster: Greater Opportunity Than Meets the Eye - With the signing most recently of Devin Setoguchi and Corey Potter, the training camp invites of Raphael Diaz and Sheldon Brookbank, is there a 'genuine opportunity' for a prospect to make the Flames roster? Contrary to what many think, I say there absolutely is and I explain why.