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Posted On Tuesday, 01.14.2014 / 12:24 AM

By Aaron Vickers - Correspondent / - 2014 Top Prospects Game blog

Players focus on Top Prospects game, not rankings

CALGARY -- Ranked first or 101st, Barrie Colts defenseman Aaron Ekblad knows his journey to the 2014 NHL Draft isn't close to being finished.

Ekblad, the top-ranked North American defenseman in NHL Central Scouting's midterm ranking, admitted that while the distinction is an honor, his focus is elsewhere since there's plenty of hockey left to play before draft day in June at Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia.

"It is what it is," Ekblad said. "You could rate me one, two or 10. It is what it is. I think the most important thing is winning games with your team in the CHL and playing big on teams like this [the BMO CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game]. If you have team success, individual success will come quickly after that. I'm not worried about that. It is what it is and I've just got to keep working hard and doing the things I like to do."

What Ekblad's done throughout his junior career has been impressive. The 17-year-old has 14 goals in 31 games, tops among Ontario Hockey League defensemen, and his 31 points are tied for ninth. He also earned his way on to Canada's team for the 2014 IIHF World Junior Championship.

Posted On Monday, 01.13.2014 / 10:03 PM

By Aaron Vickers - Correspondent / - 2014 Top Prospects Game blog

Top Prospects Game's a reunion for golden Canadians

CALGARY -- At his billet's home back in Kingston, Ontario, Spencer Watson has a reminder of Canada's golden performance at the 2013 Ivan Hlinka Memorial Tournament.

His locker room at the BMO CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game will have plenty more.

Fourteen members of Canada's gold medal-winning entry are represented at the Top Prospects Game, making it a reunion of sorts for Watson and his teammates.

"Everywhere you look, you see someone you know," said Watson, who led the August tournament with 10 points in five games. "That way, it's a nice little reunion. It's great to play with players you've already played with before."

"Just to know you're part of that group and just know you're right there and you're just as good as all these other guys," he added. "It's a huge honor to be playing with all these great players for sure."

The memories didn't stop at Watson.

Posted On Monday, 01.13.2014 / 9:44 PM

By Aaron Vickers - Correspondent / - 2014 Top Prospects Game blog

Snowstorm can't stop Top Prospects event

CALGARY -- A snowstorm in Calgary couldn't stop 40 of Canada's top draft-eligible players from invading the city.

Calgary, which will host the BMO CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game at Scotiabank Saddledome on Wednesday (9 p.m. ET, NHLN-US, Sportsnet), was blanketed with heavy snowfall from dusk until dawn, throwing a wrench in some players' travel plans.

"It was pretty interesting," Plymouth Whalers goaltender Alex Nedeljkovic said. "A lot of guys got delayed on the plane so it's kind of been a little hectic getting to the airport and getting here, but it's been pretty cool.

"My flight was delayed a little bit. Just enough to make things hectic."

Nedeljkovic wasn't alone.

Posted On Sunday, 01.12.2014 / 10:06 PM

By Aaron Vickers - Correspondent / - 2014 Top Prospects Game blog

Hitmen duo ready to host CHL's top prospects

CALGARY -- There's something to be said for home-ice advantage.

Calgary Hitmen teammates Jake Virtanen and Ben Thomas will have 'Dome ice advantage in the 2014 BMO CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game at Scotiabank Saddledome on Wednesday (9 p.m. ET, NHLN-US, Sportsnet).

"It gives me a little bit of confidence right from the start," Virtanen said. "It's in the [Saddledome]. Others are probably not used to playing in an NHL rink. I'm really excited for that. I'm really comfortable with that. I've been here [in Calgary] for almost two years now. I think it gives me and Ben a little bit of confidence more than most guys."

Virtanen and Thomas will be teammates Wednesday as members of Team Orr.

Posted On Saturday, 01.11.2014 / 2:54 PM

By Aaron Vickers - Correspondent / - 2013-2014 At the Rink Blog

Offensively challenged Flames welcome Penguins

CALGARY -- The Edmonton Oilers sure didn't do the Calgary Flames any favors Friday night.

The Oilers turned a late 3-2 deficit into a 4-3 overtime win thanks to goals by Anton Belov and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, snapping Pittsburgh's three-game winning streak in the process.

The Flames know that as a result, they'll be dealing with an ornery Penguins squad when they play host to Pittsburgh at Scotiabank Saddledome on Saturday.

"They're going to be hungry," rookie Sean Monahan said. "They didn't expect to lose that game and in hockey anything can happen so I think they're going to be hungry for a win. But so are we."

With Calgary's recent struggles, coach Bob Hartley's attention is solely on his own bench, though.

Posted On Thursday, 01.09.2014 / 3:16 PM

By Aaron Vickers - Correspondent / - 2013-2014 At the Rink Blog

Blues look to extend win streak to seven vs. Flames

CALGARY -- The St. Louis Blues hope to increase their winning streak to seven games when they visit the Calgary Flames on Thursday.

But the Blues, who last lost a game 4-3 in a shootout to the Flames at Scotiabank Saddledome on Dec. 23, know not to take Calgary lightly.

"That was a wake-up call that if you let your foot off the gas, teams are going to take advantage of you," Blues captain David Backes said. "We learned a lesson that night. It taught us a full 60 minutes wins a hockey game.

"We've had pretty good efforts throughout that stretch of games where we haven't lost, but it's another 0-0 game at the start of this one against a team that works as hard as anyone, so we've got our work cut out for us."

Posted On Friday, 01.03.2014 / 3:24 PM

By Aaron Vickers - Correspondent / - 2013-2014 At the Rink Blog

Wideman ready to return to Flames' lineup

CALGARY -- After missing 16 games with a broken hand, Calgary Flames defenseman Dennis Wideman will make his return to the lineup Friday against the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Despite missing over a month of action, nerves aren't settling into the veteran of over 600 NHL games.

"Butterflies? No," he said. "You definitely have to get your head back around getting prepared for a game. When you're not playing there's different preparation the morning of. I'm just trying to focus on getting ready for [Friday]."

Wideman sustained the injury blocking a shot late in the Flames’ 3-2 loss to the Chicago Blackhawks on Nov. 27. He's not sure what to expect in terms of workload after his lengthy layoff.

"I have no idea what the plan is there," said Wideman, who is averaging 26:14 of ice time this season. "I think for me it's going to be just trying to get the first couple shifts pretty short, try to get my legs under me, try to get my wind and get used to the speed again. The worst thing that can happen is getting caught out there for a long [shift] early on."

Posted On Tuesday, 12.31.2013 / 2:08 PM

By Aaron Vickers - Correspondent / - 2013-2014 At the Rink Blog

Westgarth could make Flames debut against Flyers

CALGARY -- If Kevin Westgarth can make it to Scotiabank Saddledome in time, he will make his Calgary Flames debut Tuesday against the Philadelphia Flyers.

Westgarth, acquired Monday from the Carolina Hurricanes in a trade for Greg Nemisz, is trying but may not make it in time for puck drop on New Year's Eve.

"Right now the main thing is to try to get Kevin Westgarth in town," Flames coach Bob Hartley said. “His flight has been delayed. We think he's going to show up early this afternoon, so if he does he's going to be in the lineup."

If he does have Westgarth at his disposal, Hartley said he expects one thing from his new forward.

"Toughness," he said. "That's why we got him."

Posted On Sunday, 12.29.2013 / 1:49 PM

By Aaron Vickers - Correspondent / - 2013-2014 At the Rink Blog

Flames' Backlund questionable for Canucks

CALGARY -- Despite playing a season-high 22:51 in a 2-0 loss to the Edmonton Oilers on Friday, forward Mikael Backlund could be out of the lineup Sunday when the Calgary Flames host the Vancouver Canucks at Scotiabank Saddledome.

Backlund missed practice Saturday and skipped the morning skate Sunday with an undisclosed injury.

"Backlund's going to be a game-time decision," coach Bob Hartley said. "I talked to him and he feels that he could be in. There's no sense in putting him in this morning. You guys [media] and I will find out basically at the same time [if he can play]."

Posted On Friday, 12.27.2013 / 2:48 PM

By Aaron Vickers - Correspondent / - 2013-2014 At the Rink Blog

Flames' Stajan OK after knee-on-knee collision

CALGARY -- Calgary Flames center Matt Stajan couldn't dodge David Backes but he did dodge a bullet.

Stajan won't miss any time after a knee-on-knee collision with Backes during overtime of Calgary's 4-3 shootout victory against the St. Louis Blues on Monday.

"I feel OK," Stajan said. "I've taken a lot of hard hits here lately but the three days off, I think it did a lot. Luckily there was no serious ligament damage in any of the plays. It's just bruises and aches and pains that you recover with time. I'm excited to get back at it and hopefully heal up as we go here."

With one minute remaining in overtime, Stajan had the puck and was cutting across the Blues' blue line. Backes went in to deliver a blow to Stajan but caught him with a knee-on-knee hit instead. Backes was assessed a minor penalty on the play while Stajan immediately left the ice, slamming his stick against the boards before exiting.

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