Saturday, August 29, 2015

Austin Carroll: Potential Steal Packs Plenty of Punch and Perseverance

It would be overgeneralizing to call Austin Carroll the right-hand shooting version of Micheal Ferland, yet there are similarities between the two wingers that fans and the coaching staff should find alluring.

There is their size. Carroll, listed at 6-foot-3 and 225 pounds, is an inch taller and 10 pounds heavier than Ferland.

There is their style of play. Both play a nasty, rugged brand of hockey while also having the ability to put the puck in the net and produce offence.

There is their background. Both played four seasons in the Western Hockey League -- Carroll with the Victoria Royals and Ferland spending a majority of his time with the Brandon Wheat Kings.

Ferland's bust-out year came in 2011-12 as a 19-year-old when he had 47 goals and 96 points along with 84 penalty minutes. Carroll's 19-year-old season in 2013-14 was also pretty good -- 34 goals and 57 points to go with 114 penalty minutes -- but his best season came last year when he chalked up 38 goals, 77 points and 124 penalty minutes.

"With his skills and what he does out there, I'd love to follow his footsteps," said Carroll last month at Flames development camp. "In junior, you always knew when (Ferland) was on the ice. Big, tough guy that was a threat to score as well."

Carroll was in the Saddledome last April for a couple of the playoff clashes against Vancouver so got to witness Ferland's effectiveness first-hand.

"They had the Ferland chants going on. It just shows that this city definitely respects and acknowledges work ethic and hard work," Carroll said. "Ferland just went out there, put his head down and went to work. He really showed the coaches and the city, that you can be an impact player doing that."

Always Wanted to Play for the Flames

Playing tyke hockey in Calgary, Carroll wanted to do one thing when he grew up -- play hockey for the Flames. His favourite player was also a popular pick with kids back then -- Jarome Iginla.

Complicating that dream, however, was a move to the southern United States when he was six years old. After a year in San Francisco, the family settled in Scottsdale, Arizona, which isn't exactly a hockey factory.

Nonetheless, Carroll stuck with hockey despite baseball, football and golf being more logical pursuits for that area of the country. He eventually ended up playing for the Junior Coyotes Elite AAA program at age 15 before finding his way back to Canada to play Junior 'A' for the Coquitlam Express of the BCHL.

Victoria in the WHL came next where he spent his final three years under the tutelage of former Flame Dave Lowry, who took over as the Royals coach in 2012-13. Lowry is considered one of the best coaches in junior hockey and will be the man behind the bench for Canada at this year's World Junior Championships.

Rare, Coveted Overall Skill Set

For some perspective on how rare it is to find someone with Carroll's combination of size, tenacity and skill, only three other times in the last dozen years in the WHL has a player 6-foot-2 or taller scored at least 35 goals, 70 points and had over 100 penalty minutes:

Adam Lowry, Swift Current (2012-13), 3rd round pick by Winnipeg in 2011
  • 6-foot-5, 207 lbs, 45-43-88 in 72 games, 102 PIM (at age 19)
Kyle Beach, Spokane (2009-10), 1st round pick by Chicago in 2008
  • 6-foot-3, 209 lbs, 52-34-86 in 68 games, 186 PIM (at age 20)
Troy Brouwer, Moose Jaw (2005-06), 7th round by Chicago in 2004
  • 6-foot-2, 214 lbs, 49-53-102 in 72 games, 122 PIM (at age 20)

Of the three, Troy Brouwer is a particularly interesting comparison considering he was also a seventh round pick and a right-hand shooting right winger. Now wouldn't the Flames be ecstatic if Carroll turns out anything like Brouwer, who has put together a solid NHL career.

Having just turned 30 this summer. Brouwer has 132 goals and 255 points in 531 regular season games split between Chicago and Washington. He's also played in 78 playoff games and won a Stanley Cup. Entering the final season of a three-year, $11-million deal, Brouwer was acquired by St. Louis this summer in the trade that sent TJ Oshie to the Capitals.

Experienced Tragedy at a Young Age

It was just before Christmas during his second season in the WHL when his father Phil succumbed to his four-year-fight with prostate cancer and passed away. Austin was 18.

For more on Austin's special relationship with his father, who was a native Calgarian, take a few minutes and watch this terrific and moving tribute from two years ago by Victoria's CHEK News.

Austin said his father remains an inspiration to him.

"I think about him often. Growing up, he pushed me every day to become better. He instilled that in me," he said. "Every day when I'm working and I want to give up, definitely in the back of my mind, as much as I want to do it for myself, I push harder just for him and my family."

New Stage in his Career

This year, for the first time since his father passed away, Carroll prepares to play hockey in a new city and in a new league and one that will take him back into the southern U.S. again, only this time in the Pacific time zone.

After signing his entry-level contract with the Flames on March 26, Carroll will suit up this season for the Stockton Heat, Calgary's AHL affiliate.
"It's a big step. As many nerves as I have, there's also excitement," said Carroll. "I love summertime but I'm itching to see how I do in pro so I'm excited for that day to come."

Carroll knows playing against men versus boys will be a big change. He expects pace and fitness to be the biggest differences.

"You have to go in there with a high fitness level so you have that chance to prove yourself. The pace of the game is going to be a lot quicker so I have to adjust quickly," said Carroll, who acknowledges some elements of his game will remain the same. "I like playing a power, physical game. I'm not shy in the corners or to step up for teammates. If that's asked to be part of my game, I'm not scared to do that."

Before Stockton's season gets underway on October 10, Carroll will get into some games for Calgary in Penticton at the rookie tournament, which runs Sept. 11-14. You can bet he'll get a taste of action in the NHL pre-season too.

"You have to mentally and physically prepare but it all comes down to how you perform," Carroll said.

Soft Hands for a Big Man

One area of Carroll's game that is impressive is his touch around the net. For a big guy, he seems to have a knack for scoring from in-close and around the goal crease.

"I've done a lot of work after practices working on quick, in-tight little skills around the net," said Carroll. "Most goals are scored right around the net. As a big power forward, I will spend a lot of time there and if I do start scoring some goals, it will be in and around the net."

With big, agile defencemen covering you like a glove and with goalies taking up so much space, you don't have the time to wait and make the perfect shot.

"You don't have a lot of time and space, so you have to make quick, quick plays and if you have to get a puck upstairs quickly, you've got to do it within a split second," said Carroll.

Following the Path his Father Envisioned

After being passed over the first year he was eligible for the NHL draft and not being taken until the final round of the next draft, it's going to be an uphill climb for Carroll to make it to the NHL.

However, considering everything he's overcome so far in his life, it would be a mistake to underestimate him. Perseverance and determination can carry someone a long way.

"Deep down, my dad always knew that this was the path for me and he knew I was going to make it," said Carroll. "But just how I did it, he didn't quite know."

As he pursues that childhood dream of one day playing for the Flames, he'll continue to have his family supporting him every step along the way -- his dad watching proudly from high above and his mom, Jennifer, as often as possible watching from near or at ice-level, as was the case throughout development camp. 

By the way, have you liked Flames From 80 Feet on Facebook yet? Go there and do so now. It's just another way to be alerted to new Calgary Flames articles that I've written.


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