In the summer of 2013, the Calgary Flames convened their annual summer development camp at Canada Olympic Park. At that camp, friendship blossomed between three aspiring NHLers. The three got along well enough that they became roommates after they were assigned to the minor leagues.
Within a year, they would have all make their NHL debuts and have scored their first NHL goals.
In an organization in the midst of a rebuild, Corban Knight, Ben Hanowski and Josh Jooris have been a pleasant surprise and one of the quirkiest success stories in recent memory. And despite being very similar people, the trio joined the Flames organization in fairly different circumstances.
Hanowski was the first to join the Flames family and the first to make his NHL debut. Originally drafted by the Pittsburgh Penguins (63rd overall in the 2009 Draft), he was traded to Calgary on March 28, 2013 along with a first round pick and Kenny Agostino for Jarome Iginla. Once his college team at St. Cloud State was eliminated from the NCAA playoffs, he signed a pro contract with the Flames and made his NHL debut on April 15, 2013 – scoring his first goal in his very first game.
Knight was the next to join the Flames organization. Like Hanowski, he was selected in the 2009 NHL Draft – 135th overall by the Florida Panthers. However, he developed at the University of North Dakota into one of the top college prospects in the United States. With the Panthers having a log-jam at the center position, and worried about losing Knight as a free agent for nothing once his collegiate career was up, they swung a deal with the Flames. Knight headed to his hometown team (he grew up in nearby High River) while the Panthers snagged a fourth round selection.
Jooris was the final member of the trio to join the Flames. Undrafted, he tried out for two NHL teams unsuccessfully before finally signing a deal with the Flames in July 2013 following the team’s development camp. After all three players were cut from Flames training camp and assigned to the American Hockey League’s Abbotsford Heat, where they decided to parlay their friendship and similarities (all three being former NCAA players) into being roomies.
The approach has had its benefits. Jooris and Knight got a roomie in Hanowski who had already cut his teeth in the NHL and was hungry to return. All three got a pair of roommates who had been through similar experiences in their college careers and were adjusting to playing professional hockey – and all the frustrations and bumps in the road that go along with that transition. Moreover, they all got a support system; and a pair of guys to play video games with in their down-time.
“We got some heated battles going with Madden and NHL, for sure,” shared Jooris, who noted that the trio’s GM mode play didn’t involve too much creative roster tinkering to get familiar names onto the Calgary Flames roster. “We played it pretty legit. It was a matter of who was performing down in Abbotsford at the time, so you really had to earn your call-up there, even in the video game.”
“At one point we had us all up on a line, though, and we did some damage,” added Jooris with a smile.
On trade deadline day (March 3, 2014), Knight was summoned to the NHL and made his big-league debut. He scored his first goal a week later, on March 12 against Anaheim, part of a 7-2 Calgary rout that night.
Jooris was the final member of the trio to make his first bow in the National Hockey League. After a stellar training camp that had him using his speed and size to become a contender for a bottom-six spot, and being one of the last cuts from that camp, Jooris was summoned to replace an injured David Jones on October 17. He scored his first goal in that game, and it was one for the highlight reels.
It’s one thing to make the NHL and it’s another thing to stay in the NHL. Knight, Hanowski and Jooris have all had the proverbial cup of coffee in the NHL – Knight played 7 games and Hanowski played 16 games – but all three are eager to prove they’re ready to take that next step.
After putting in their time in college and the American League, it goes without saying that they’d love to make their video game exploits on the same line a reality in the National Hockey League.
Ryan Pike has covered the Calgary Flames and the NHL Draft extensively since 2010 as a Senior Writer for The Hockey Writers and Senior Contributing Editor of FlamesNation.ca. A member of the Professional Hockey Writers Association, he lives in Calgary.