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Flick making most of final junior hockey moments

by Ed Klajman / Chicago Blackhawks
Center Rob Flick (right) has made a name for himself in the OHL with his blend of skill and toughness.

MISSISSAUGA, ON – It was the most important goal Blackhawks prospect Rob Flick has ever scored.

With his host Mississauga St. Michael’s Majors trying to win the most coveted prize in junior hockey – the CHL's Memorial Cup – the pressure was on Flick’s home side Sunday night. His Ontario Hockey League team had lost the tournament opener against the QMJHL champion Saint John two days earlier. Facing the Western Hockey League's Kootenay Ice, the Majors needed a win to keep any hopes for a title alive.

With the game tied at one midway through the third period, Chicago’s 2010 fourth-round draft pick took over, showing what kind of impact he might one day have in a Blackhawks uniform.

Flick took a pass down the right side, used his body to shield the puck, flew past a stunned defenseman, quickly switched from his backhand to forehand and finished with a crisp snap shot under the goalie’s blocker into the bottom left corner of the net. It would turn out to be the game-winner, as the Majors edged the Ice, 2-1.

“We knew we needed that game. It was a must-win and I was lucky enough to be the guy who put it in,” said the modest center, who was also instrumental in the team’s first goal, when he drove hard to the net from the left wing, jammed the puck on goal and created a rebound that was easily put away by a teammate.

Majors teammates Devante Smith-Pelly and Riley Brace celebrate with Flick after his game-winning goal against Kootenay.

And if that wasn’t enough, the 6-foot-2, 205-pounder set the physical tone for the entire game with a number of board-rattling body checks, including one that got the capacity crowd fired up just a minute into the game.

“I have to come out and be physical if I’m going to play my best. That’s what I have to bring and I try to do that off the start,” Flick said after the game.

One spectator at the game particularly thrilled to see Flick’s dominant performance was Blackhawks Assistant General Manager/ Sr. Director of Hockey Operations Kevin Cheveldayoff.

“Playing on the big stage, it’s just tremendous for a player’s development,” said Cheveldayoff, who is attending the tournament to get a close-up look at Flick, while also assessing a smorgasbord of draft-eligible prospects competing at the event. “For a player like Rob, he’s had a big role on a very good team and it’s great to see how his development has come a long way from the time we drafted him to where he is right now. When you see how players play on the big stage, that’s something that shows a little glimpse into the future and how they can handle the pressure, so it’s an exciting time for Rob and exciting for us as an organization.”

Flick is completing his third campaign in Mississauga. During the regular season, the native of London, Ontario had 27 goals and 30 assists in 68 games, while registering a +28 rating. He put up similar numbers during Mississauga’s long playoff run in the Ontario league playoffs, with eight goals and eight assists and a +6 rating in 20 games leading up to the Memorial Cup.

The figures that really jump off the stat sheet are his 168 penalty minutes in the regular season, and another 34 in the playoffs, which won’t surprise any Blackhawks player who saw him at last fall’s training camp, as he was never shy about getting into the odd scrap.

“I was just trying to play physical and if I want to make my way into the NHL at some point, I know being physical is going to be one of the main components that gets me there,” said the 21-year-old Flick. “I like to generate my offense and energy by being physical and if that leads to a fight then so be it. It’s part of my game. It’s nice sticking up for teammates and knowing you can rely on a couple of things to really stand out as much as possible.”

James Boyd, Mississauga’s assistant general manager and co-coach, said it wasn’t that way when Flick first started with the team.

“When Rob came to us out of midget hockey, he was definitely a skilled player, more of a goal-scoring player,” said Boyd. “But over the last few years he’s really developed his game, where now he has an arsenal of tools.

"He’s a prototypical power forward. He can score. He’s great on faceoffs. He can really fight and knows the appropriate time to do it so he’s not hurting his team by taking silly penalties. And I think he understands the flow of the game and for a big man, he uses his body to his advantage.”

Flick said he was thrilled to have a chance to go to the Hawks’ camp, explaining how having a great experience there propelled him toward having a strong season in Mississauga.

“I remember playing on a line with Patrick Kane and Patrick Sharp,” said the man known to his teammates as Flicker. “That was a lot of fun to give those guys the puck and if you’re in an open area you’re going to get it back. It’s really fun with the game speed like that. You get used to that kind of speed, you come back and it’s not quite the same, you feel that you have that extra jump, and you’re still excited about being there, and I think for sure that gives you a little bit of a boost.”

Flick now has just a two or three games left in his junior career, beginning Wednesday with an important matchup against arch-rival Owen Sound to end the round-robin portion of the tournament. The championship game takes place Sunday night.

If I want to make it to the NHL at some point, I know being physical is going to be one of the main components that gets me there. - Rob Flick

After the event ends, Flick’s thoughts will turn to Chicago and returning to camp next fall, where he hopes to have as big an impact there as he has had at the Memorial Cup.

“I think you just show up and you can’t be distracted. You have to play your game that got you there and that for me is being physical and knowing my role and what I bring to the table and just being a well-rounded hockey player. And I think if I do that I should get a good look at and hopefully they consider me for an American Hockey League team, or whatever it is. I just hope to get considered for the upcoming year.”

Cheveldayoff thinks Flick’s future looks bright, though he emphasized you can never put a timetable on a young player’s development.

“When you turn pro there are certain things that are different than junior. There’s going to be a lot of a learning curve for any player coming out of junior. But the way he plays, the way he competes, the willingness to want to be a good team player, those are the kinds of things that are going to help him when he’s out there as a pro.”

Dave Cameron, general manager and head coach of Mississauga, said Flick’s hockey intelligence is what will ultimately get him onto the Blackhawks’ roster.

“Some big and strong guys who have great potential just end up being tough guys who never get beyond the juniors. That’s as far as they go. They never really understood how they had to develop certain skills to make it to the NHL. Rob’s not like that. He understands what it will take for him to make it in the NHL – how to excel in his role as a physical player – and I think he’s going to have a good career at the next level.”

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