Kevin Bieksa and Micheal Ferland hate each other. But, since their feud began 18 months ago, Ferland has elevated his game to a whole new level. Still, the hatred between the two was obvious as they exchanged haymakers in the first period of a recent 8-3 home-ice drubbing by the Flames over Bieksa’s new team in Anaheim.
However, their war goes back to the 2014-15 playoffs when Ferland exposed and then abused Bieksa and a Vancouver Canuck defense core that was undersized and ill-equipped to deal with his punishing style of play.
Making a Splash
Ferland’s performance during the 2014-15 NHL playoffs as a rookie turned a lot of heads. How could it not? He threw 50 hits in just nine playoff games. But, Bieksa wasn’t about to give the rookie any credit, calling him irrelevant and then blasting him in an interview with Sportsnet.
“That Ferkland, or whatever his name is,” Bieksa said, “was running around trying to get something going. It’s not the first time we’ve seen that in the playoffs. We’ve played against Ben Eager and some other dumb-dumbs like that before. We know how to handle that.”
But the Canucks clearly didn’t know how to handle Ferland at all and the Flames upset them in six games during their first round playoff series that season. It was a memorable debut and a well-deserved one considering Ferland’s humble upbringing from a single-parent low-income family and his more recent battle to find sobriety.
When he was young, Ferland’s mother often found help through charities like KidSport and the Manitoba Metis Federation to help pay for his hockey equipment. This eventually resulted in Ferland using his natural talent to get to the WHL with the Brandon Wheat Kings even though he only played house-league and outdoor hockey until he was 15 years old.
“She found a way,’’ said Ferland of his mom to the Calgary Herald. “There were years my sister had to work. I’m really grateful to both of them, for sure.’’
Working on Consistency
However, even with a great start in his rookie season, Ferland found it hard to establish consistency with his game during his sophomore campaign. Assistant coach Martin Gelinas noted some of these issues in a recent interview with CalgaryFlames.com.
“Last year, you didn’t know when you put Ferly (on the ice) what would happen. He’s got a gift offensively but defensively, sometimes you wondered. Now, he’s playing on both sides of the puck and it’s nice to see,” said Gelinas. “He’s more mature … he’s more focused now. I think he knows he belongs. He’s more confident. His overall game has grown. He’s reliable. He’s producing.”
This season, Ferland seems a lot more deliberate in his actions on the ice. Last year he was a player who might go out and try to hit everyone in a single shift while going out of position and tiring himself out with fatigue. This year his focus is simplified and more deliberate, which has helped him build confidence to seek both hits and scoring opportunities that have the most impact on the game.
Hitting The Mark
The improvements in Ferland’s game are starting to show on the score sheet. Already he has matched his goal total from last season at four and has ten points through the first 29 games, which is just eight points behind his total output in 71 games last season.
He’s also been a durable difference maker by expanding on his fourth-line role on the roster and by suiting up for every match, most recently alongside centre Freddie Hamilton and Garnet Hathaway. Together, the energetic line has been a disruptive force at even strength, generating a surprising number of scoring chances during the 10 minutes of ice time they see each night, though Ferland is now getting more of a look on the power play, where he has scored two of his four goals.
“I really think he’s developed a really strong base this first 20 games,” Gulutzan explained to CalgaryFlames.com. “It’s probably time that we give him a little more. But we wanted to work on the foundation first and he’s done a really good job of it. I’m really impressed with his work and his play and his demeanor. I knew what he had. I knew how good of a young man he was back in junior, having worked with him with Saskatoon. But he’s really impressed me.”
At 6 feet 2 inches and 208 pounds, Ferland is a commanding physical force on the ice, whether it’s by parking himself in front of the net or by deflecting shots on the power play. He is proving he belongs on the power play and that his scoring touch can make a difference at the NHL level.
“Playing at this level has just made me a better player. I kind of went through stages like that in junior – every year, I kept getting better and better. I feel the same right now,” said Ferland to CalgaryFlames.com.
He may have not taken the most traditional route to the NHL, but Micheal Ferland knows what he wants in life and he has shown the commitment it takes to make it happen. At just 24 years old he already has all the life experience and NHL skill he needs to continue being a driving force for the Flames for years to come.