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Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Imperfect 10: Suddenly, the Flames Can't Beat Edmonton and Fan Frustration is Rampant

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Losing to Edmonton.

Again.

Twice in fact.

Again.

Yes, it's only September, a time of year where the only meaningful games are being played on ball diamonds and football fields, yet when Calgary loses to Edmonton in anything -- crokinole, tetherball, water polo, never mind hockey, it always matters.

The Flames opened up the NHL pre-season Monday night exactly how they opened up the pre-season a year ago, with two losses on the same night to their rival three hours to the north.

For fans, losing in two's to the Oilers has become a bad habit of late.

Following the split-squad losses last year, Edmonton swept the home-and-home to open up the regular season.

Then in January, on consecutive Saturday nights, again it was the Oilers that prevailed on both ends.

Add in losses in Penticton at the last two rookie tournament meetings and the last 10 times players wearing Flames sweaters have taken to the ice in a match-up against players in Oilers sweaters, it was the orange and blue that triumphed.

Like the warnings on packs of cigarettes, watching games with Edmonton these days should carry a label warning Flames fans of the risk to their health. Caution: Watching the Battle of Alberta may stunt your happiness.


Plenty of Work to Do

There's over two weeks still before the two sides meet again for real. They open the regular season against each other on Oct. 4 at Rogers Place. There's still plenty of time for Glen Gulutzan's crew to get their act together but Monday's meager efforts hardly instilled much confidence in a fragile Flames fan base still suffering PTSD from how last year's lopsided season series went.

Oilers fans, after all, as if the years 2007-2016 never happened, are chock full of swagger these days. They will rarely pass up an opportunity to poke fun at their provincial rival.




The worries -- insert surprise-face emoji here -- begin in net.

Tearing down and re-building the crease has become an annual summer project for Flames GM Brad Treliving. Like weeding the flowerbed.

This summer's trip to the garden centre landed him Mike Smith and Eddie Lack

But a lot more sunshine and water is needed because both are looking wilted after last night.

In Calgary, Smith was beaten four times on 13 shots. In Edmonton, Lack surrendered three goals on 23 shots. Combined, the new-look tandem sport a 7.10 goals-against average and a .805 save percentage for their combined 59 minutes of work. 

The first number will come down. The second number will go up. Is it a microscopic sample size? One hundred percent. But considering the importance of the position and the club's recent history at the position, it should be no surprise that fan anxiety is already revving at very high RPMs.


Blown First Impression

Smith was philosophical about the rocky start. At 35, he knows better than to dwell on a half-game of hockey in mid-September. Yet if this was a first date with the C of Red, there would have been no good-night kiss at the end, nor any swapping of phone numbers.




Five minutes in, Drake Caggiula's deflection slowly trickled over his pad. Five minutes after that, Yanu Auvitu's 40-foot slapshot off the wing again went off his pad and in. Just like that, murmurs of disdain could be heard from the lower bowl.

After Micheal Ferland loses the puck along the boards, Jujhar Khaira strolls to the face-off dot and whistles a shot over Smith's glove. Great shot, but this is a fourth line player with one goal in 25 NHL games, not exactly a sniper.

But the blame goes well beyond Smith.


Mark Giordano
It wasn't a gem of a performance from the Flames out-of-synch back-end either, despite Calgary rolling out their vaunted top-four.

Impersonating Nicklas Grossmann, normally trustworthy Mark Giordano served up a meat-lover's pizza for the fifth goal early in the third that restored Edmonton's three-goal cushion. Kailer Yamamoto graciously accepted the freebie in the slot -- that came with a free order of cheese bread -- and buried a shot behind Jon Gillies.

As for Travis Hamonic and TJ Brodie, let's call it a work in progress. Roseanne Barr and MC Hammer have better chemistry at this point. Again, not a reason to be concerned yet, it's one game together and heck, training camp only opened four days ago. But it's an indication that it's going to take some time. Hamonic needs to get to know his new D-partner (and vice-versa) while also getting familiar with Gulutzan's defensive system. You'll recall how long that took the others last year.

It was a rough night for Brodie in particular, who got beat a couple of times and looked more like a guy auditioning for the sixth or seventh D job than a guy that should be anchoring the second pairing.


In Case You Missed It

For fans, the two highlights of the night came very early and very late.

Before many were in their seats, Sean Monahan took a nice feed from Ferland, looked off Johnny Gaudreau on the ensuing two-on-one, and wired a shot under the crossbar. On the first shot of the game, just 1:01 in, Calgary led 1-0.

Then, with many fans already heading for their cars or the LRT, the nicest goal of the night was authored by Mark Jankowski with 54 seconds left. Spark plug Dillon Dube with some terrific work down the left side to outmuscle a defender and then zip a pass in front to Jankowski, who sniped the shorthanded goal.

But in between, lots of dreg from the home side and by lots, I mean lots.

It's too early for panic. Too early for angst. Too early for the nerves to be frayed. It's way too early for all of that. But losing to Edmonton will have that effect.

To paraphrase one of Bob Hartley's favourite sayings, if Monday night was the balloon party after the Flames offseason moves left many fans brimming with optimism, the Oilers were the porcupines that showed up at the door uninvited.


Final Word

The first round of cuts were announced today, which is a day off for the team. Twenty-one players with no real surprises were trimmed, leaving the camp roster at 47.

With camp down to two groups now instead of three, Wednesday brings another chance for Calgary to redeem itself against the 'B' cast (or 'C' cast) left behind by Vancouver while most of the Canucks stars are in China for the two-game showcase with Los Angeles.

It will be a night in which the result doesn't matter, unless they lose. Take one on the chin to the undermanned Canucks and widespread panic will really set in -- not Defcon 1 level, but Defcon 4 or 5 would be about right.

It's ridiculous, it's over the top, but as social media has proven out repeatedly, when you're talking Flames-Oilers or Flames-Canucks, rational perspectives are the exception, not the norm..

Didn't you miss hockey?




By the way, have you liked Flames From 80 Feet on Facebook yet? Do so now! It's another way to be alerted to new stories I've written, other articles from my colleagues that I've enjoyed and I'll occasionally use that space to weigh in on the news of the day.


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Sunday, September 17, 2017

Hungry for More: Slimmed-Down Andersson Anxious for Second Helping of the NHL

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After devouring the appetizer, Rasmus Andersson can't wait for the main course.

It's an analogy, a reference to his four-week stay with Calgary late last season and his desire to make the NHL for good next time.

Fifteen months ago, it wasn't an analogy, it was his suppertime routine.

To refresh your memory, Flames general manager Brad Treliving was none too pleased with Andersson's fitness level at last year's development camp. The result was a public scolding for the 6-foot-0 defenceman.

Message received.

Last year at training camp, his conditioning was a bit better. This year, it was much better.

Noticeably leaner, Andersson checked in earlier this month at around 210 pounds, down considerably from where he was at in July 2016.

"It feels good," says Andersson. "I feel like I have a lot of jump. It's noticeable."


Making Smarter Choices

Last year in Stockton in his first year of pro, he spent a lot of time with Alan Selby, the Heat's strength and conditioning coach. He also has two strength coaches in Sweden he works with in the off-season.

Ryan Huska
"You just have to change the way you eat," says Andersson, who turns 21 in October. "Obviously it's not easy, but it's a lifestyle and it feels better."

When Calgary's rookies arrived in town to do their fitness testing 10 days ago, Treliving spoke to the improvements Andersson has made.

"At this level, the expectation is you do the work," said Treliving. "Ras has put in a lot of work. He’s dialled it in here. We all know his ability and he’s going to determine how far he goes with it.”

At the conclusion of rookie camp, Stockton coach Ryan Huska acknowledged how far Andersson has come in a year.

"They often don't know how to take care of themselves when they first start and he's probably a good example of that," said Huska. "He learned some tough lessons over the course of the year and I think he did a good job over the summer getting down to a level our development group wanted him at.

"Now, it's a matter of staying there, continuing to improve and making sure he's stronger with his overall game. Now the strength comes into play, now the overall conditioning comes into play, and these are all the things that he has to be committed to."


NHL Stint Served as Motivation

The purpose of an appetizer is to stimulate or increase your appetite by getting the juices flowing inside your stomach.

While Andersson only dressed for one game while he was with the Flames from March 11 through April 9, the whole experience left him wanting more. Much more.

"Don't get me wrong, we have a good set-up in Stockton -- good travel and a nice rink, but once you come up to the NHL, the bus picks you up when you leave your flight, you don't have to go through any terminals. Bus takes you all the way to the hotel. You stay in one of the nicest hotels in town.

"It's a completely different lifestyle. Your paycheque is way different, the flights, everything is different. So that motivates you even more that you want to be up there full time. You don't want to be up and down, or just up a few times."

Those lasting memories, that entire experience, it's what gives you that little extra boost in the off-season to help you push through a gruelling workout.

"When I got home this summer, I said to myself, I don't want to be in the AHL. The NHL is where I want to be," says Andersson. "I think I have a better shot this year than last year because I'm in better shape. I've just got to do my thing and play my game and we'll see how far it goes."

Main camp got underway at the Saddledome this weekend. As part of Team 'C', Andersson has been paired with 2017 first rounder Juuso Valimaki. The two also skated together in Penticton with Andersson picking up three primary assists in three games.

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Adventurous First Call-Up

Andersson chuckles as he recounts the whirlwind scramble last year when he got the call he was joining the Flames.

"Me and Andrew (Mangiapane) just had dinner. We watched the Calgary-Montreal game and I saw two defencemen go down and I remember, he told me, be ready if they call you now, but I'm like, 'I don't think they'll call me.'"

Turns out, they were about to. Both Michael Stone and Dougie Hamilton had been injured against the Canadiens. Stone was going to be out for a while and Hamilton's status was not yet known.

"It was about 10:30 p.m. and I was just about to jump in the shower and go to bed when (Flames assistant GM) Brad Pascall called me and said I was going to be picked up in 20 minutes."

That first NHL call-up for a young player is a big deal, but he had no time to soak up the moment as his ride was on the way to whisk him away to the San Francisco airport.

"How long am I going to be there? How much am I going to bring? You just start thinking about everything," Andersson said.


Hung Out to Dry

Adding an additional layer of complexity to the mad scramble, he was in the middle of doing his laundry. So he grabbed a garbage bag and started chucking in his clothes -- shirts, pants, socks, underwear, all of it soaking wet.

Rasmus Andersson
So there he stood, waiting for his ride (Adam Berger, Team Services) to show up, with his suit bag and a garbage bag.

"Luckily it was late at night, nobody really saw me," says Andersson with a smile.

Once he got to the San Francisco airport hotel, he opened up the garbage bag and hung up everything to dry. He flew to Calgary first thing the next morning, then headed straight over to the Flames private air terminal where he chartered with the team to Winnipeg.

Meanwhile, while all that was going on, another fire drill was taking place back in Sweden.

"It was 6 in the morning back home so I didn't really want to call my parents yet, but while we were driving to the airport, Adam told me, just call them, wake them up. So I called my mother and she was freaking out because I thought I was going to play," Andersson says.

"They told me to be ready to play. They weren't sure if Dougie was going to play, so my mom booked her flight at 7 a.m. and flew out at noon."


'Tis But a Scratch

As the story goes, Dennis Wideman was inserted for Stone and Hamilton was ruled good-to-go (and went out and assisted on all three goals in Calgary's 3-0 win) so after all that, Andersson ended up a healthy scratch -- with his travel-weary Mom in MTS Centre along with him.

"But I still got to spend a lot of time with my mom and I hadn't seen her in 4-5 months so that was nice," Andersson says.

After five or six days, his mom flew home, but Andersson wasn't jetting anywhere quite yet.

As the Flames push for the playoffs continued, coach Glen Gulutzan rolled with the same line-up on the blueline with Andersson at the ready, just in case. Andersson ended up watching 14 games from the press box before he finally made his NHL debut in game 82,

"I did not get frustrated at all. I just took everything in," recalls Andersson. "You just get to the rink every day and try to make an impression in practice."

Given Calgary's position in the standings, he admits he wasn't expecting to play either.

"I had no expectations at all that they were going to change the line-up because that wouldn't be fair to the other guys who have been playing the whole year and me as a younger guy, coming up and having not played a game yet," he says. "I was just up there in case anything happened and if I did get the shot, I would have been ready."


Long-Awaited Debut

Being ready included getting fully geared up and taking the warm-up before all but a couple of the games, just in case.

It also involved skating every day, which was a lonely experience.

"Because we played every other day, there wasn't any real team practices. So it was basically me, (Curtis) Lazar and Freddie Hamilton who were on the ice every day."

Getting to visit with one of his best friends -- fellow Swede Andre Burakovsky -- when the team was in Washington, was another highlight.

The game he finally drew into was in San Jose at the SAP Center, a familiar building for Andersson as it's also home to the AHL's San Jose Barracudas, a team Stockton had played numerous times that year already.

"When I was sitting in the dressing room and I just looked around, I was pretty calm before the game, which surprised me a little bit," said Andersson. "But I had been there before, I knew the building.

"But after the national anthem, you see the fans, how fired up they were. That's when I realized that damn, I've got to be ready. It's a moment I'll never forget."

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Final Word

While Andersson had a great rookie season in Stockton with 22 points (3 goals, 19 assists) in 54 games while going a plus-13, Huska says he still has work to do.

"Consistency is one thing. Every day he needs to be on point," Huska said. "When you look at his overall game, he thinks the game very well. He needs to do things a little bit quicker.

"He's always going to be a guy that plays the game with composure and poise, that's what he is and that's one of his strengths as a player. He needs to speed up his decision-making sometimes with the puck and work on a little bit more straight-line play."

Barring an injury to someone on the right side -- Hamilton, newcomer Travis Hamonic, or the re-inked Michael Stone -- Andersson will have to wait his turn.

Until that main course is served and maybe it's not until 2018-19 or later that he has gets an opportunity to crack the line-up for good, he'll have to be satisfied with nibbling on the occasional appetizer in the form of any call-ups that happen throughout the season.

"I've just got to go out there and show my best side every day and take it day-by-day and see how far it goes."

As the Flames No. 3 prospect according to my latest rankings and the top up-and-coming blueliner, seems it's only a matter of time before the main course is served. With maybe even a dessert to follow.

Of course, it would be a 'healthy choice' dessert'. This is, after all, the new and improved, and leaner, Rasmus Andersson.





By the way, have you liked Flames From 80 Feet on Facebook yet? Do so now! It's another way to be alerted to new stories I've written, other articles from my colleagues that I've enjoyed and I'll occasionally use that space to weigh in on the news of the day.

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Friday, September 15, 2017

Oh Canada: Smith/Hamonic Rejuvenated and Grateful for Fresh Start North of the Border

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Psst. There isn't another song.


It's OK to put your helmets back on.


You'll have to excuse Mike Smith and Travis Hamonic on Monday night if they're a little slow to react after George Canyon finishes doing his thing.


After all, for the last 15 years for Smith and last seven years for Hamonic, "stand on guard for thee" has always been followed by "oh, say can you see".


Not anymore.


Welcome back to Canada, fellas, where the beer is cold, the winters are colder, and 'Eat, sleep, breathe hockey' isn't just a t-shirt, it's our way of life.


"Everyone's been super welcoming," says Hamonic, who grew up in St. Malo, Manitoba.  "Whether it's neighbours, people in Sobeys, gas stations, it shows how much the Flames mean to the city, how excited everybody is."


The last time Hamonic played in a game that didn't include Star Spangled Banner was April 23, 2010. Co-incidentally, it was also at the Saddledome. It was game 5 of the WHL's Eastern Conference final. That night, his Brandon Wheat Kings season ended with a 6-1 loss to the Calgary Hitmen.


"It's all part of playing in a Canadian market. I don't think you can beat it, especially growing up in Western Canada myself, where else would you want to be playing?" asked Hamonic, rhetorically. "Those are things that come with the territory and I think as a player you understand that you're going to be a face of the community."



A Decade and a Half for Smith


Smith's last home game north of the border was with Sudbury in the OHL in March 2002.


"I'm excited about the opportunity to be on a winning team and to be on a Canadian team," said Smith, the native of Kingston, Ontario. "As a Canadian boy growing up, I wasn't necessarily a Flames fan, but I definitely followed all the Canadian teams, and I know I'm a big Flames fan now!"



You and many others, Mike. The Flames fan base is vast, knowledgeable, but also very passionate. As a warning, they can be especially harsh on goaltenders in particular.

"It's exciting to be a part of a Canadian team that's expected to do well," Smith says. "There's pressure that goes along with that but that pressure is why you play the game and why you want to be in big games and on a winning team. I'm really pumped about it."


He says he'll be ready for when the heat comes. The "red" in C of Red is not just a reflection of the many home sweaters worn in the crowd, sometimes it also refers to the colour of furious fans' faces after a bad goal is allowed.


"Oh, I'm sure there will be moments when they're not liking what I'm doing, probably yelling at me to get back in my net, but I've heard it all," says Smith with a chuckle.



Fresh Start for Both


For both players, while returning to Canada is great, it's also about playing somewhere different. You sense things had gotten stale for both at their last stops and understandably so.


After a run to the conference final in 2012 in his first year with the Coyotes, Arizona hasn't made the playoffs since. Over the last five winters, only Buffalo has won fewer games.


The Islanders are the only team that Hamonic, 27, has ever known. Drafted in the second round in 2008, the same defence-heavy draft (e.g. Four of the top five picks were blueliners) in which TJ Brodie went in the fourth round, he has made the post-season only three times, making it to the second round just once.


Smith, 35, used the word "rejuvenated" to describe how he feels in his new area code. Hamonic went with "grateful".

"I'm an older guy but coming to a new team with the excitement around the whole organization is real, exciting for myself," Smith says. "I hope I can be a big part of pushing this organization the right direction."


That same sentiment is echoed by Hamonic.


"When the trade happened, we were beyond excited for numerous reasons," Hamonic explains. "Playing in a Canadian market. Playing in a city like this is something that I'm really excited for the challenge, and truthfully, I'm grateful.


"Not every player gets to play in market like this and I'm sure winning in a market like this, there can't be anything better so that's what I'm here to do so and try to help."


Brad Treliving says a change of scenery can re-charge players' batteries and give them a boost.


"Change and newness always gives you a little juice," says the Flames GM. "There's a little bit of nervousness and what not, but I know both are excited. I talked to both a lot over the summer. There's a freshness to it. There's an excitement. They're very eager to get going."


Ready to Roll


Both players are crucial to Calgary's success.


Entering the season as the undisputed No. 1 goaltender, the Flames need Smith to deliver reliable, consistent goaltending. It's something they been searching for since Miikka Kiprusoff retired in 2013. Good in spurts isn't good enough, they got that last year from Brian Elliott.


"I've been around long enough to know what to expect," says Smith. "Hopefully it will be a great year and the excitement around this city will stay high and we'll all enjoy making a playoff push."


Hamonic has been airlifted in to the second pairing to play alongside Brodie and be the final piece to what the Flames hope will be a top-four that will be amongst the NHL's elite.


"As a player, everyone wants that. You want to have those expectations of pressure. That really is what brings the best out of you as a person and as a player," says Hamonic. "We've certainly got some good defencemen here. I've said it in the past. Some of the guys on this defensive core are some of the best in the league in my opinion and I stand by that."



Final Word


Starting Wednesday, October 4 in Edmonton, after just one anthem, it all gets going for real.


"There's expectation here to do well. As an older player, that's all you can ask for. You want to be on a winning team, a winning franchise, it's exciting to be a part of a Canadian team that's expected to do well," says Smith.


Back home on the Saturday for game 2, Hamonic's home-province Winnipeg Jets come calling.


"I look forward to playing in front of a Canadian market crowd and a great city like Calgary," Hamonic says.


And that home crowd looks forward to cheering you on too. But just know that the folks in Sobeys, next time you're grocery shopping, won't mince words if you're not playing well. They won't be any happier at the gas station.


As they say, careful what you wish for.




By the way, have you liked Flames From 80 Feet on Facebook yet? Do so now! It's another way to be alerted to new stories I've written, other articles from my colleagues that I've enjoyed and I'll occasionally use that space to weigh in on the news of the day.


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Thursday, September 14, 2017

Perfect Hire: Flames Add McGrattan to Development Staff in Player Assistance Role

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Talk about hiring the perfect person for the job.


The Calgary Flames got it right on Thursday, announcing they have added Brian McGrattan to their Player Development staff.  It is a player assistance role that will report to Ray Edwards, Director of Player Development.


"Stress of pro hockey is not easy for a young guy coming in," says McGrattan. "I have a wealth of knowledge. Fifteen years of pro experience, I've experienced everything you can experience in this game -- good, bad. I'm looking forward to being a good bridge for the players to talk to.


"You get guys coming out of junior, coming out of college, stress of trying to make a team, training camp, pressing management to get your first call-up. Pro hockey is a lot more physical, a lot more games. It's going to be a lot of fun working with some of these young players."


McGrattan was last spotted in the NHL in 2014-15. It was his third and final season with the Calgary Flames, who assigned him to Adirondack in the American Hockey League on Jan. 10, 2015. He would never play another NHL game.


McGrattan returned to the AHL the following season with San Diego, Anaheim's minor league affiliate. Last year, he took his family and crossed the Atlantic to play in the United Kingdom. Suiting up for Nottingham of the EIHL, he had 19 points (12 goals, 7 assists) in 47 games while piling up 138 penalty minutes.



Switching Work Places


"For any guy that steps away, it was a tough decision, but it was a decision that I was ready for," McGrattan says, reflecting on his decision to retire. "I have a young family at home, I have a 2-year-old. I'm 36 and I haven't exactly lived the easiest almost 20 years.


"A lot of physicality, a lot of fighting. The main decision was it was time to let my body rest and put my main focus on my family and I'm very happy and fortunate that a position has opened up for me to re-join an NHL team and I'm ready for that next step."


Brad Treliving agrees the time is right for this next step and he says McGrattan has a lot to give in this role.


"I've known Brian for a long time and this is something we've talked about for a while," says the Flames GM. "Brian has unique experience. He's a player that's played at every level and made it here the hard way. It's well documented the challenges that Brian has dealt with in his life."


With McGrattan, you're getting the genuine article. This isn't an expert trained in the field, he's a guy wise in his ways from having literally been there, done that.



Been There, Done That


"He brought up an interesting line," Treliving says. "If you want to secure your house, hire a former thief. Well, he knows all the tricks. He said to me, I've been down this path, I know the challenges, I know what they go for and I really think I can help, and I do too."


His ability to relate as a hockey player not far removed from playing the game will make him a great option, especially for young men just turning professional.


"It's hard to go to the manager or the coach," admits Treliving. "It's authentic with him. This is somebody that players can talk to. He's been there, he's been in their shoes."


Micheal Ferland, who called the hire "awesome", had to go through a similar battle with sobriety. He says he was grateful for having McGrattan around.


"You know what he's been through, what you've been through. He's had dark days and he's someone you can talk to," Ferland says. "There are some similarities in all the stuff that we've been through. There's always something that bothers someone. To get stuff off your chest, it's easier to talk to guys that have been through it."


He hopes himself, McGrattan, and Emile Poirier -- McGrattan's latest success story -- can all be resources for teammates to tap into.


"You never know what other guys are battling with, personal issues, etc." says Ferland. "I think it helps having guys like me, Grats, and now Emile, in an organization. These are guys that you can come and talk to."



Progressive Hire by the Flames


A fourth round draft pick by the Los Angeles Kings in 1999, McGrattan says he wished he had these types of resources available to him back then.


"The Calgary Flames are going to be at the forefront and are leaders in this position as an organization," McGrattan says. "It's a role that I wish was there and hundreds of players had wished was there back in the day.


"For (Calgary) to take charge and put a guy in a position that's there to work with young players and to be an outlet for players, it's a pretty special thing."


As the speed in the NHL picks up and the number of fights comes down, McGrattan's on-ice role as an enforcer -- a role he performed for his entire career -- is one that is quickly becoming endangered.


One can only hope his new off-ice role with the Flames, one with a far greater responsibility, is a role that will only continue to grow.


Good on you, Calgary Flames, for the progressive hire.


Not sure in 2004-05 when McGrattan piled up 551 penalty minutes with Binghamton (AHL) that anyone would have said this, but the league is a better and safer place with McGrattan involved.


Changing times and in a good way.





By the way, have you liked Flames From 80 Feet on Facebook yet? Do so now! It's another way to be alerted to new stories I've written, other articles from my colleagues that I've enjoyed and I'll occasionally use that space to weigh in on the news of the day.


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Training Camp Primer: A Run-Down of Who's Who Including 10 Players to Watch

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Zero down, 45 cuts to go.


Calgary Flames main training camp gets going Thursday morning at WinSport with fitness testing. On Friday, the scene shifts to the familiar confines of the Scotiabank Saddledome where three groups of skaters will take to the ice for the first time.


After three days of practices, it's game time with a pair of split-squad games against the Edmonton Oilers on Monday to kick off the preseason.


There are a whopping 68 players in camp -- 40 forwards, 21 defencemen and 7 goaltenders. Man, that's a lot of gear going a lot of different places. Keep the tireless Mark DePasquale, Corey Osmak, Dean Hood, Ben Dumaine and the rest of the club's equipment staff in your thoughts the next couple of weeks.


That's not even everybody in the organization either. Absent from camp are seven players enrolled in college or playing in Europe:

  • D Adam Fox, Harvard (2016, 3rd round)
  • C Linus Lindstrom, Sweden (2016, 4th round)
  • C Mitchell Mattson, North Dakota (2016, 5th round)
  • C Pavel Karnaukhov, Russia (2015, 5th round)
  • RW Eetu Tuulola, Finland (2016, 6th round)
  • D Rushan Rafikov, Russia (2013, 7th round)
  • LW Filip Sveningsson, Sweden (2017, 7th round)

The team comes into camp very healthy. The only player missing camp due to an injury is 2017 sixth rounder D'Artagnan Joly, who has a bad back. Also sidelined at development camp, he has been returned to his QMJHL team.

When the Flames hit the ice, they'll do so in three groups named after past coaching greats Al MacNeil, Bob Johnson and Terry Crisp. Ice times for Friday, Saturday and Sunday are 9 am, 11 am and 1 pm and all sessions are open to the public.

Groupings and practice times for each are available here on the Flames website.


For an overview of who's who in the zoo, here is a breakdown of every player that is in town, trying to crack Calgary's season-opening roster, which can be a maximum of 23 players.


I've bucketed the 68 players into 10 categories:



1. Locks at Goaltender (2)


As straight forward as it comes., these two veterans will form your NHL tandem:

  • 31 - G Eddie Lack
  • 41 - G Mike Smith

Noteworthy


When Eddie Lack was last spotted in the Western Conference, the lanky Swede appeared to be well on his way to a solid NHL career. But his two years in Carolina did not go so well. Now the jury is out on what to expect from the easy-going 29-year-old. Reunited with Glen Gulutzan and with goaltender coach Jordan Sigalet determined to revert his style to what worked in the past, there's reason to believe Lack can regain his form from 2014-15 when he posted a .921 save percentage with the Canucks. But with one year to go on his contract, if he doesn't bounce back, there are options just a short flight away in Jon Gillies and David Rittich. Both are champing at the bit for some NHL playing time.



Player to Watch


Welcome to the jungle, Mike Smith. He is ecstatic to be out of Arizona and in an organization with the potential to not just make the playoffs, but go a few rounds too. But careful what you wish for. With playing in a market that expects to win, not just hopes to win, the scrutiny and the heat of the spotlight will be far more intense than in Glendale. Smith is getting up there at age 35 but always known as a tremendous athlete, there's no reason to believe he doesn't have at least one more good season in him, if not two. What he brings the team is a track record of being a bona fide No. 1 and that's not a luxury Calgary has enjoyed lately.




2. Locks at Forward (11)

There are no question marks here, other than how the third line might be configured and who of the many that are capable of doing it, end up playing their off-wing:
  • 10 - RW Kris Versteeg
  • 11 - C Mikael Backlund
  • 13 - LW Johnny Gaudreau
  • 18 - C Matt Stajan
  • 19 - LW Matthew Tkachuk
  • 20 - C/RW Curtis Lazar
  • 23 - C Sean Monahan
  • 36 - RW Troy Brouwer
  • 67 - RW Michael Frolik
  • 79 - LW Micheal Ferland
  • 93 - C Sam Bennett

Noteworthy

Sean Monahan and Johnny Gaudreau are both in camp, healthy, and ready to go. That puts the team way further ahead of where they were at a year ago in the first season for Glen Gulutzan season behind the bench. As you may recall, Monahan was bothered by a strained back for most of the pre-season a year ago and Gaudreau was back home in New Jersey, waiting for his contract to get done. Both were ready just in time for the season opener, but as it turns out, they --  nor the team -- were really ready.




Player to Watch

Not that long ago, there was a real fear that Sam Bennett was going to be AWOL when camp began. But the two sides found a middle ground that worked and with a two-year deal for just under $4 million in his back pocket, now it's up to Bennett to begin that sharp ascent upwards that many people have been impatiently waiting for since he was selected one pick after Leon Draisaitl in the 2014 NHL Draft. Should he take his production where many think it's possible to go, he will earn a nice bump in pay in two years time.



3. Forward Bubble (9)

The battle for the two or three forwards jobs (depending on whether Gulutzan keeps a 23-man roster or goes with a leaner 22-man group) is going to be intense. Joining a couple veterans on PTOs that are desperate to stay in the league, another nine forwards already under contract also have a legitimate chance of opening the season on the NHL roster:

  • 15 - RW Spencer Foo
  • 17 - LW Luke Gazdic
  • 21 - RW Garnet Hathaway
  • 25 - C/RW Freddie Hamilton
  • 28 - RW Emile Poirier
  • 46 - LW/C Marek Hrivik
  • 49 - LW Hunter Shinkaruk
  • 74 - RW Daniel Pribyl
  • 77 - C Mark Jankowski

Noteworthy

Emile Poirier's conquering of his two-year battle with sobriety was the feel-good story of the off-season. With his life turned around, now can he turn around his hockey career? It's the great question and we're about to find out. In a very small sampling, he looked excellent at development camp, now that sample size gets a little bigger. Know that all Flames fans will be rooting on the right-winger, who two years ago I had as the No. 2 prospect in the organization behind Bennett.  

Player to Watch

Given his age, size, experience and pedigree, 23-year-old Mark Jankowski was supposed to be one of the best players in Penticton, and he was. Tipping the scale 40 pounds heavier than when he was drafted 21st overall as a scrawny, high school kid in 2012, the 6-foot-5, 210 pound centre is a giant, imposing man now. When you add in his high-end puck skills, he looks like a sure bet to become an NHL regular, the only question being how soon and what is his ceiling.





4. Locks on Defence (5)

Barring injuries, these are your top five with absolutely zero debate:
  • 5 - D Mark Giordano
  • 7 - D TJ Brodie
  • 24 - D Travis Hamonic
  • 26 - D Michael Stone
  • 27 - D Dougie Hamilton

Noteworthy

The TJ Brodie apologists were out in full force last year with the finger of blame for Brodie's sub-standard season pointed squarely at his D partner, Dennis Wideman. But don't kid yourself, it wasn't all that. This also wasn't the same calibre of Brodie that had taken such giant strides in previous years that had him the buzz of the league for a while and earned him Norris Trophy votes two seasons earlier. He'll need to clean up the uncharacteristic errors and poor decisions that hurt his overall game last year, which had nothing to do with who he was on the ice with.  

Player to Watch

Poached out of Brooklyn and delighted to be returning 'home' to Western Canada, Travis Hamonic can't wait to get the season started. The enthusiasm gushing out of him in July when he was unveiled to the media has been a high that I'm hearing he has still not come down off. If he can find the form that once had the 27-year-old on the path to being one of the better defencemen in the NHL, Calgary's blueline will be in terrific shape. Hamonic isn't just a snarly, stay-at-home guy either. Gulutzan noted on the weekend how pleasantly surprised he was with how well he skates. The coach says he likes his mobility and there's a lot more two-way in Hamonic's game than many might be expecting.





5. Defence Bubble (4)

With two jobs up for grabs on the blueline, here are the internal options. Rounding out the field will be the guys on PTOs:
  • 26 - D Tyler Wotherspoon
  • 44 - D Matt Bartkowski
  • 54 - D Rasmus Andersson
  • 61 - D Brett Kulak

Noteworthy

The only guy that can go down to the minors without having to clear waivers is Rasmus Andersson and that's probably what his ultimate fate will be. While the young Swede projects to be the best defenceman of the group down the road, I don't think it's Andersson's time quite yet, especially with the way the right side stacks up with Hamilton, Hamonic and Stone. The right-shooting defenceman spent four weeks in the NHL late last season and I don't doubt he'll get some more big league time this year, but logging top-pairing minutes and further developing his game in the AHL would be the smart move.

Player to Watch

Brett Kulak, it's your time to shine. So close to making the Flames NHL roster for good the last couple seasons, there aren't any big ticket veterans standing in the way anymore. The 23-year-old just has to go out there and keep things simple, make smart first passes, use his speed to jump up in the rush, while at the same time building the coach's trust in his defensive game. Once he gets over the hump, he is capable of establishing himself as a real nice 5-6 option for years to come.



6. Veterans on PTOs (6)

Six players are in camp on professional try-outs, each of them hoping to impress enough to earn a contract for the 2017-18 season, whether that be an NHL deal or an AHL deal:
  • 39 - D Daniel Maggio
  • 48 - D Colby Robak
  • 51 - LW Tanner Glass
  • 55 - D Dylan Olsen
  • 57 - LW Joel Lowry
  • 64 - LW Joseph Cramarossa

Noteworthy

Daniel Maggio is most famous for being the guy who knocked Brian McGrattan out cold in that frightening AHL fight two years ago in San Antonio. The 26-year-old has never played an NHL game and last year spent 33 games with the Orlando Solar Bears (ECHL). Let's face it, he's not here to make the Flames, but I would not be surprised to see him in the line-up in Edmonton on Monday night during the split squad games. The other name you may wonder about is Joel Lowry. Indeed, he is Adam Lowry's older brother. Their Dad is ex-Flame Dave Lowry, who is back in the NHL this season as an assistant coach in Los Angeles.


Player to Watch

If you're seeking a venti-sized shit-disturber, one guy to closely watch is the cantankerous Joseph Cramarossa and this is a player the Flames know very well. Last year, the 24-year-old dropped the gloves with both Matthew Tkachuk (in his first first NHL fight) and Alex Chiasson. The flare-up with Chiasson was preceded by an aggressive stick to the midsection on Chiasson, as the two lined up for a face-off, just to get the ex-Flames' blood simmering. Calgary was very interested in him last year when the Ducks reluctantly put him on waivers after the acquisition of Patrick Eaves, but Vancouver claimed him. Cramarossa was a third round pick of the Ducks in 2011 and his nasty edge would look good in the line-up when the Flames play in Anaheim in the third game of the season.


7. Rookie Camp Invitee Holdovers (8)

Eight players were invited to rookie camp and got in at least one game in Penticton. In a somewhat surprising move, all eight got to extend their stay in Calgary after being invited to main camp also.
  • 50 - F Mark Rassell
  • 73 - D Cliff Watson
  • 78 - D Tyson Helgesen
  • 80 - C Glenn Gawdin
  • 84 - C Brad Morrison
  • 89 - F Sam Dove-McFalls
  • 97 - F Ben Hawerchuk
  • 98 - D Sam Ruopp

Noteworthy

All of the players listed above can return to major junior with two exceptions. Cliff Watson is looking for NHL employment after finishing his fourth and final year at Michigan Tech. The last two years he served as the Huskies' captain. Sam Ruopp is in a similar situation. After completing his overage season at Prince George, the feisty 6-foot-3 blueliner (suspended 8 games, and also 5 games once) is looking to take the next step in his hockey career. An unsigned fifth round pick by Columbus in 2015, Ruopp also has a reputation as a leader having captained the Cougars the last three seasons.

Player to Watch

Glenn Gawdin got into all three games in Penticton and that's usually an indication that a team has some genuine interest in you. A fourth round pick of the St. Louis Blues in 2015, they chose not to sign him and that opened up the door for the Flames, who have liked him since they interviewed him two years ago at the NHL Scouting Combine. Gawdin, who captained Swift Current (WHL) last year, missed 40-plus games over the last two seasons due to a myriad of injuries.

More on Gawdin here, as I spoke to him on the weekend in Penticton.


8. AHL-Only Deals (5)

These are players under contract with Stockton only and are ineligible to play for Calgary. They will play either in Stockton or Kansas City, which is the new home to the Flames ECHL affiliate:
  • 37 - C Rod Pelley
  • 43 - D Kayle Doetzel
  • 53 - D Oleg Yevenko
  • 68 - D Adam Ollas Mattsson
  • 76 - C Brett Findlay

Noteworthy

Replacing Stockton captain Mike Angelidis (signed in Austria) as that need-to-have veteran presence to provide leadership, experience and help guide the organization's young prospects is Rod Pelley. The 33-year-old from Kitimat, B.C., has been with the New Jersey Devils organization for most of the last 11 years since graduating from Ohio State in 2006. He logged over 200 NHL games with the Devils before being part of the Kyle Palmeiri trade with Anaheim. In his last NHL tour of duty, he logged 45 games with the Ducks in 2011-12. But the NHL is an afterthought now. Pelley has spent the last five seasons exclusively in the AHL, the last four as captain of the Albany Devils.


Player to Watch

Meet Oleg Yevenko, a massive man and a smart dude. The 6-foot-7, 235-pound Belarusian defenceman, who loves to play physical, impressed Flames staff in a four-game audition with Adirondack (AHL) two years ago after wrapping up his final year at UMass-Amherst (NCAA). But Columbus successfully courted Yevenko that summer and after impressing at training camp, the Blue Jackets signed him to a one-year, two-way NHL deal. They re-signed him to the same deal again last year before becoming a free agent this summer. Yevenko was one of only eight players in Hockey East to receive Distinguished Scholar status in his senior year. He also qualified for the HE All-Academic Team all four of his years. He's been a fixture for Belarus in International competitions the last three years.


9. Junior Eligible (6)

There are a bunch of organizational guys that could return to junior and all but a couple are locks to do so:
  • 42 - D Juuso Valimaki
  • 47 - RW Matthew Phillips
  • 48 - RW Zach Fischer
  • 59 - C/LW Dillon Dube
  • 63 - C Adam Ruzicka
  • 70 - G Nick Schneider
  • 82 - G Tyler Parsons

Noteworthy

The one guy on the list I fully expect to turn pro is Tyler Parsons. There's nothing left for this young man to prove in the OHL so it's time for the organization's top prospect to take his talents to the next level, which for a goalie is the ECHL. The Flames will want Parsons playing in the AHL eventually but for now, Kansas City is a good place to start and then see what happens from there. It will only take one injury at the NHL or AHL level and Parsons will be packing his bags and stepping on a plane. Juuso Valimaki will also be a hot topic but at age 18, it is very, very doubtful he makes the team this year.  


Player to Watch

I was thoroughly impressed with the all-round game of Zach Fischer in Penticton. I wrote about him on a couple of occasions including this extended take complete with coach and teammate insight after the Flames 6-2 win over Vancouver on Sunday. Passed over in the NHL draft in each of his first two years of eligibility, Calgary selected him in round 5 this year after a breakout season in every way one could have a breakout -- goals (from 8 to 34), points (from 13 to 63), penalty minutes (from 15 to 145). After bulking up last off-season, I don't doubt he crushed a bunch more meat lovers' pizzas last year as well, compared to 2015-16.



10. Minor-League Bound (11)

These are guys that with one exception played a majority of last season in the minors -- Stockton mostly, but also Adirondack -- and are very likely to return there to start this season:
  • 32 - G Jon Gillies
  • 33 - G David Rittich
  • 45 - LW Morgan Klimchuk
  • 56 - C Ryan Lomberg
  • 58 - D Oliver Kylington
  • 60 - C Brett Pollock
  • 62 - RW Austin Carroll
  • 72 - G Mason McDonald
  • 71 - RW Hunter Smith
  • 85 - D Josh Healey
  • 88 - LW Andrew Mangiapane

Noteworthy

Everyone listed has put in at least a little bit of time in Stockton including heavy-hitting Josh Healey, who squeezed in a couple games at the end of last year after graduating from Ohio Sate. Jon Gillies and David Rittich ended up splitting the AHL starts after Christmas so expect a good battle between them right off the hop as he each pushes to get the opening night assignment from Ryan Huska.

Player to Watch

Scrappy Ryan Lomberg is always going to carry a label of player to watch. In his third year in the organization now, this is the first time he hasn't started at rookie camp. Having to wait like that before getting on the ice could be like holding a bucking bronco in the chute for an extra few minutes. Now we'll sit back and see how he buzzes around and gets himself noticed because you know he will find a way.





By the way, have you liked Flames From 80 Feet on Facebook yet? Do so now! It's another way to be alerted to new stories I've written, other articles from my colleagues that I've enjoyed and I'll occasionally use that space to weigh in on the news of the day.

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Recent Flames Reading:
  • Penticton 2017: Flames 1, Jets 4 - It was an awful game but there was still enough fodder contained within for me to recap -- for better or worse -- some weekend talking points. I also get pretty aggressive with my dentist appointment analogies. (September 12, 2017)
  • Penticton 2017: Flames 6, Canucks 2 - Calgary was much better in game 2, led by strong performances from Spencer Foo, Rasmus Andersson and Zach Fischer. More on them and other anecdotes in my six post-game impressions. (September, 11, 2017)
  • No Deja Vu: Gulutzan Explains Why this Year's Start Will be Different - Had a chance for a one-on-one interview with Glen Gulutzan in which the Flames coach talked candidly about last year's bad start, what happened, and why it shouldn't repeat itself. (September 10, 2017)
  • Penticton 2017: Flames 2, Oilers 4 - My six post-game impressions from the Flames opening night loss to Edmonton includes a pretty good night for Mark Jankowski, an impressive outing from Juuso Valimaki. More on them and other observations. (September 8, 2017) 
  • Draw to Remember: Jankowski on the Art of the Face-off and his Moment of Glory - One night in Brooklyn. Of the over 1,000 face-offs Mark Jankowski took last season, there was one in particular that stood out and will always be a lasting memory. (September 8, 2017)