Saturday, September 12, 2015

Penticton 2015: Flames vs. Oilers - Game Preview Featuring Morrison, Kulak and Carroll

One down, two to go. It's the Flames and Oilers tonight as the 2015 Young Stars rookie tournament continues. To get you set up for the game, here is some pre-game reading in the form of six perspectives that I've split into Deep Thoughts and Quick Thoughts.

Deep Thoughts 

1. Wardrobe Change

Growing up in Lloydminster, Kenney Morrison's parents had Oilers season tickets. Their allegiances have changed.

"They've got different jerseys now. They've switched their colours," Morrison said with a smile on Saturday morning as the 23-year-old defenceman gets ready to make his Young Stars debut against Edmonton.

In town to watch the first-year pro put on a Flames jersey for the first time are his parents, his sister, his godparents and a good friend.

"A good way to kick off the season. It's going to be a big rivalry this year," said Morrison, who will likely be bound for Stockton, where the Heat's 68 game schedule features 12 games against Edmonton's AHL affiliate in Bakersfield.

"I'm sure if you stick a guy tonight, he'll get you back at some point in the year," Morrison said.

In his three years at Western Michigan University, Morrison said it was the University of Minnesota Duluth that they would butt heads with the most. He added that he likes those games when the intensity goes up.

"It definitely gets you excited for the game a little more. More intense If you do something good for the team like a blocked shot, people get more excited," he said.

Morrison in his first year of a two-year deal. However, anxious to get going, he went to the AHL last season after his college year ended and did get in 10 games on a pro try-out, amassing two goals and four assists.

"Kenney volunteered to come down to play for us at the end of the year and he didn't really have to," said Ryan Huska, the Flames AHL/Penticton coach. "It's because he wanted to get a better understanding of what was expected of him. He wanted to play games with us so he could make impressions on people and get to know the staff. I think that says a lot about his character."

Morrison will be partnered with Brett Kulak.

"He's a worker He put size on this summer. I think he's a very good skater, he shoots the puck really well. Another guy that wants to play," Huska said..

2. Kulak is Back and on the Attack

Brett Kulak is back in the line-up for the second night in a row and it comes after he shouldered a hefty workload on Friday as the Flames lost Oliver Kylington to a minor injury early in the first period so were quickly down to five defencemen.

"I feel good this year being my third time around at this tournament. I feel confident and it's fun out there," said the mobile 21-year-old, who likes to pattern his game off of guys that skate well.

"I like players like Jay Bouwmeester, Ryan Suter in Minnesota and Duncan Keith. I watch guys like that and try to pick up little points as they play," said Kulak. "They use their skating to their advantage a lot to escape out of pressure."

Kulak's hockey career took a detour last year when he got demoted to the ECHL and ended up playing 39 games for the Colorado Eagles.

"It opened my eyes a little bit. They told me I have to work harder and I was really upset with myself," Kulak said. "For the first week, I was down there, I was bummed out but then I just changed my mindset and started working and just tried to get better every day."

It worked.

"I was playing lots of minutes there and getting better and I felt like I deserved to be back up in the AHL and it ended up being that way," said Kulak, who ultimately made it all the way up to Calgary for game No. 82, which was his NHL debut.

Learning From It, Not Grousing About It

A positive about the demotion is he went from a team with excess defencemen to a team where his services were badly needed.

"That was the biggest things when I went down to the East Coast is I played every role and got lots of minutes so that helped me and when I got back, there was some injuries in Adirondack so I was able to play when I got called back up," Kulak said.

He says the roller-coaster year wasn't an easy thing to go through but feels it will benefit him in the long run.

"I learned a lot. I grew up a lot. It was my first year pro and I was a long way away from home. Cooking all my own meals and living on my own, I matured a lot that way," said Kulak.

Now he's back and determined to continue developing into the type of defenceman Calgary wants, one that is good at moving the puck and is quick to jump up into the rush -- although only when it's the right time to do that.

"He's got the skating ability, that's there for him, it's making the decisions of when to go and when not to go and making decisions of when to make the safer play at times," said Huska. " I think that will be important for him to put in his repertoire for him to take that next step."

3. Big, but Soft Hands

Austin Carroll didn't get as many scoring opportunities as he would have liked Friday night but he'll get another chance against the Oilers as the 6-foot-3, 225 pound winger draws back into the Flames line-up.

He'll have Bill Arnold as his centre but this time on left wing will be Andrew Mangiapane, who demonstrated his playmaking abilities a few times on Friday night.

"Bill handles the puck well and makes good decisions. Mangiapane, he's a little quick guy with tons of skill, who had a great year last year. I'm hoping to get open whenever it's possible and present my stick in a good area and hopefully get some good passes and opportunities and maybe put one in the back of the net," Carroll said.

A fascinating element of Carroll's game is while he's built for rough-and-tumble, he's got 'moves like Jagr' also. He nearly pulled off a dynamite toe drag down the wing early in the game and later on almost slipped right between two defenders and in on a breakaway.

"I like to keep it simple, playing a big power forward role but when there's moment to use my skill and to show that I can make plays in tight situations, I like to do that."

Officially done with junior hockey now, the reality that Carroll is now being paid to play hockey as a pro is setting in.

"I'm fired up. Last year, I had my junior team to go back to. This year is different," he said. "I have to prove myself that I can play at this pro level and this weekend is definitely the start of that. I'm hoping to impress everyone and prove to them that I should be here and I can make an impact."

Quick Thoughts

1. McDavid McDucking Bennett?

They played minor hockey together, they're good friends. But the first Connor McDavid vs. Sam Bennett Calgary-Edmonton showdown will have to wait.

While Bennett draws in, playing alongside Emile Poirier again but this time with Bryce Van Brabant on the left, McDavid will sit out for the Oilers.

Bennett was asked -- in jest -- if he thought McDavid was ducking him by being scratched.

"I bet you that's not up to him," said Bennett with a chuckle. "I'll send him a text."

If not before, they two will surely meet on Oct. 17 in Calgary when the Oilers visit the Saddledome for the first regular season meeting between the two teams.

"It's going to be a lot of fun for years to come. I've heard stories about the battle of Alberta and I'm looking forward to being a part of it," Bennett said.

2. Kylington and Klimchuk on the Mend

Good news on the medical front for the Flames. Oliver Kylington and Morgan Klimchuk, who both didn't skate Saturday morning, should both return to practice Sunday and could play in Monday's finale against Vancouver.

"Much, much better tonight," said Huska, in describing how Kylington was feeling after he left the game early in the first period. "He'll be on the ice practicing with us tomorrow. Hopefully we get a chance to see him on Monday. Same for Morgan."

Huska touched on the philosophy behind the evening's line configurations.

"You try to put guys that are expected to generate offence with each other to see how they do together and see if they can find a way to score some goals and put some offence up," Huska said. "You put guys that potentially will fill into a more physical role as well in certain spots. That's really it, giving them all a chance to play in areas that we think they're most comfortable in and see how they do against some of their peers."

3. Wotherpoon's Ears are Ringing

Even though he's not here, Tyler Wotherspoon had his name come up in conversation today as discussion with Huska centered around all the defence prospects that the Flames have coming along in the system.

"Somebody has to be ready. They have to separate themselves in order to get the call-up and that's what all of our young D have to do and there's a lot of them," Huska said. "Internal competition is a good thing and we have that on our back end, for sure."

Regardless of his limited NHL time he's seen so far, Huska says the bar for Wotherspoon will continue to be raised.

"He's in the third year of his contract so more is expected of him. Every year they play, there's more expectations of the player," he said. "He's still going in to earn a job. If it doesn't end up working out for him, I foresee him having a real good year with us and he's going to be a guy that's going to push to make sure he's at the top of their list."

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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