The Calgary Flames began the rebuild in earnest this past week, with the 2013-14 hockey calendar kicking off with prospect camp. Featuring a roster boasting several recent draft picks – including first rounders Sven Baertschi, Emile Poirier and Sean Monahan – and several college free agents like Josh Jooris and Corban Knight, the week of practices and game action served as a precursor to the free-for-all that will be main training camp.
The brunt of the week was comprised of four hockey games: three at the YoungStars Classic tournament in Penticton, BC (against prospect teams from the Edmonton Oilers, Vancouver Canucks and San Jose Sharks), as well as the traditional clash with the University of Calgary Dinos men’s hockey team. While the results from the week were generally positive for the team on the scoreboard, they likely also had the side-effect of making roster decisions even tougher for Flames management.
THURSDAY: FLAMES BEAT OILERS 5-2
The Flames tournament began with an renewal of hostilities with their most bitter of rivals, the Edmonton Oilers. Despite the Oilers development system boasting three first-overall selections, none were in attendance in Penticton. As a result, the Oilers iced a more workmanlike group – along with a handful of talented blueliners – and were utterly swarmed by the Flames.
Calgary out-shot the Oilers 34-23 – including 18-6 in an opening frame that saw the Flames score three times on goalkeeper Tyler Bunz. Markus Granlund – Mikael’s brother – had a pair of goals, while Max Reinhart, Sean Monahan and Emile Poirier also scored. Laurent Brossoit made 21 saves and the two goals he let in were odd ones: a screened and tipped point shot on a power-play, and an own-goal by defender Ryan Culkin (who later saved a certain goal from going in his own net).
FRIDAY: FLAMES BEAT CANUCKS 4-1
On the second day of the tournament, the Flames were paired up with the host Vancouver Canucks. The affair was much more even than the score indicated, as the Canucks out-shot the Flames 18-8 in the first period and utterly peppered Joni Ortio with rubber for much of the game. However, Ortio stood on his head, making 39 saves on the night.
With the Flames trailing 1-0 early in the second period, forward Michael Ferland got into a fight with Canucks prospect Alexandre Mallet. He won the fight and sparked a rally, with the Flames erupting for four unanswered goals to skate away with a win. Dylan Smoskowitz, John Ramage, Eric Roy and Sean Monahan scored for the Flames, while Frankie Corrado had the lone goal for the Canucks.
SUNDAY: SHARKS BEAT FLAMES 3-2
The Flames came into Sunday’s final game after a day off and likely feeling like a million bucks. Unfortunately, they stumbled a bit out of the starting blocks and failed to run the table in Penticton. The Sharks out-shot the Flames by a wide margin in each of the first two periods (by 12-7 and 14-2 margins, respectively) and the Flames just couldn’t come back in the third period to tie it up.
Markus Granlund and Corban Knight scored for the Flames, while Laurent Brossoit made 31 saves in a losing cause. After the game, Flames GM Jay Feaster expressed some displeasure with how the game had gone, indicating he had hoped his club could’ve won all three games. Nevertheless, Feaster did have praise for a few of the team’s players for the YoungStars event as a whole – notably Michael Ferland, Markus Granlund and Joni Ortio.
MONDAY: FLAMES BEAT DINOS 6-3
Playing their fourth game in five nights, on international-sized ice, against a team of older players who are part of a regular team, the Calgary Flames prospects had a rough go of it in the first period. In short? They took too many penalties and were bailed out by Joni Ortio in net.
Then everything fell into place in the second period. The herky-jerky stop-start of their offensive play-making
attempts? Replaced with clean passes. Their feet were moving. Their power-play was clicking. And the Flames scored three power-play goals after the first period to beat the Dinos 6-3. Michael Ferland had a pair of goals – and his line with Markus Granlund and Turner Elson was the best on either team – with the rest of the team’s offense coming courtesy Zach Davies, Dylan Smoskowitz, Ben Hanowski and Sven Baertschi.
After the game, Abbotsford Heat head coach (and prospect camp bench boss) Troy G. Ward noted that he didn’t change the game-plan after the shaky first period. Rather, he attempted to re-focus his players.
“The only adjustment we made after the first was just to talk about some poise,” said Ward. “The guys were nervous because obviously it’s the last audition in front of all the management and they all want to shine while at camp. And they’re a little bit tired. They had nerves and they were tired, so we just tried to calm them down, basically.”
On the whole, Ward noted that the physicality and intensity of the clash with the University of Calgary team was exactly what his players needed to close out the prospect portion of training camp. With main camp opening on Thursday and NHL jobs for grabs, a 3-1 record over the week and a hard-fought win over the Dinos only serves to prime the youngsters for the battles ahead.
“It was good for us. This is gonna happen – the bullets are gonna fly on Thursday,” said Ward. “Guys are gonna be moving and it’s gonna be full speed and this stuff’s gonna happen. There’s gonna be big guys out there. Wideman and the (veteran) group is gonna be there. They realize that the organization is making a few changes, and we’re getting a little bit younger and they’re trying to protect their job. It’s just gonna be one of those good situations. Tonight was a good thing for the young kids.”
A LOOK AHEAD
Heading into main camp, the results from prospect camp may have muddied the waters for Jay Feaster and his staff.
- In goal, Joni Ortio has forced his way into a crowded crease that includes NHL veteran Joey MacDonald, fellow Finn Karri Ramo and Swiss standout Reto Berra.
- On the blueline, John Ramage, Tyler Wotherspoon and Patrick Sieloff should be considered contenders for jobs, joining roughly six or seven established pros in the hunt for regular minutes.
- Up front, highly-touted prospects Corban Knight and Sven Baertschi arguably disappointed – in that they failed to stand out from the pack during the week. Rather than distinguish themselves as head-and-shoulders above the rest, these contenders for NHL jobs are now joined by Markus Granlund, Michael Ferland, Max Reinhart and perhaps even former Red Deer Rebels captain Turner Elson in the hunt.
In short: rather than provide clarity and simplify the next few weeks, the level of competition at Flames prospect camp has only served to complicate main camp. But for a Flames club that is (finally) rebuilding, such complications may be exactly what the doctor ordered.