CALGARY -- Skating on the ice at Scotiabank Saddledome is nothing new for Paul Byron.
Doing so in an Abbotsford Heat jersey is.
Returning to the Stampede City as a member of the Flames’ AHL affiliate, Byron will skate alongside his Heat teammates against the Oklahoma City Barons in a home game – of sorts – in Calgary. It will be the lone game Abbotsford plays in the Flames’ rink this season.
“It feels good to be back,” said Byron. “I’ve played a few games here.”
Eighteen, to be exact, and Byron isn’t the only Abbotsford skater able to make that claim. He is one of nine Heat players to be recalled by Calgary at some point this season and see time in the NHL with the Flames. Four currently remain with the parent club.
Opportunities within the Calgary organization have never been made more readily available than this year. Often criticized in the past for the lack of promotion the club has done within the organization, the argument certainly no longer holds merit.
And it’s made for a more motivated player pool for the Flames to draw from.
“It helps everyone on the team,” Byron said. “Everyone is motivated. Everyone knows they could be the guy to get called up. We’ve had a ton of guys come up and down this year. We’ve got (four) guys that started the year with our team up there now. It’s a great motivator in the room.”
Heat coach Troy Ward has had the unenviable task of trying to play without some of his best players largely in part to frequent callups by the Flames. He’s not the least bit offended, though. In fact, he’s pleased by it.
“Here’s what you’re proud of for me, the management team in Calgary made a statement to these guys, if you do what you’re supposed to do, you’ll get rewarded,” Ward said. “I’ve been in a lot of organizations – that’s not always the case. The organization has stuck behind its word.”
No truer are Ward’s words than in the likes of TJ Brodie, who has become a mainstay on the Flames blueline. Brodie, averaging 16:53 in ice time, has 11 points in 40 games and has likely left Abbotsford in the rear view permanently.
Another example is Krys Kolanos, who missed 22 months of hockey while battling injury. On a minor-league deal to start the season with Abottsford, Kolanos was signed and promptly promoted last week by the Flames after recording 40 points in 34 games with the Heat this season.
“We’ve had some young guys like a Brodie that started with us that probably will never come back,” Ward said. “At the same time we’ve had Kolanos, who hadn’t played in (22) months, earn himself a contract. They’ve had both ends of the extreme. The management team up above with Jay and company has managed it that way and it’s a rewarding system.”
Don’t think the players in Abbotsford haven’t noticed the reward, either.
“Anyone can get a call at any given time,” said Ryan Howse, the Flames third pick in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft. “It’s encouraging for everyone. You’ve got guys coming up and staying up for a while. Just to see the movement this year is something special and says a lot about our team and even our coaching staff. Everyone has done a good job preparing our guys.”
For Akim Aliu, the thought is extra enticing. Bouncing around in the Chicago Blackhawks and Winnipeg Jets organizations after being drafted in 2007, Aliu is thrilled at what he sees with the Flames after being acquired by the club 10 days ago.
“This is one of the best places in the league to be right now as a young guy,” Aliu said. “There’s been a lot of opportunity with guys coming up, and not just for a short period of time. Guys have stuck around for a bit.”
For players like Aliu, Howse and Ben Walter who haven’t got the call yet, the game in Calgary is much like an introduction on what to expect. Sharing the same facility as the Flames and getting the opportunity to play in front of the ‘C of Red’ has Heat hopefuls thrilled.
“Everyone is pretty excited,” Walter said. “It’s a great opportunity for all of us. This is our parent team and we get to play in their building in front of their fans.”
Howse certainly agrees with his teammate.
“It’s going to be really exciting,” Howse said. “The environment and dressing over here and using the weight room and playing in front of (Flames) fans, you’re going to have that energy. There’s going to be a lot of excitement.”
And excitement is building around the opportunity to one day achieve the dream of reaching the NHL – as a member of the Calgary Flames.