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Gulutzan could skate newest defenceman against Canucks

by GEORGE JOHNSON @georgejohnsonCH /

No tentatively dipping a big toe into the shallow end of the pool for Matt Bartkowski.

No standard-issue water wings or inflatable life vest as a precautionary measure to help stay initially afloat.

Nope. Just sailing off the 3-metre board and into the churning cauldron of a turbulent playoff race.

"Being thrown into this position,'' said the newest Calgary Flame, "is what you play for.

"It's a high-pressure game, everybody's battling. You've got to be hard on every play. That's the way the game's supposed to be played.

"So I think it's more fun."

The whirlwind week for Bartkowski got even whirly-er Friday:

Arrive from Providence, R.I. after taking a shot with a professional tryout contract from the Flames. Upgraded to a two-year, two-way contract from a single-season minor-league deal your second day here.

Then before the Flames flew off to Vancouver for Saturday's encounter with the Canucks, elevated to the top-six on defence, paired off alongside Dennis Wideman.

With Brett Kulak earlier being re-commissioned to Stockton of the AHL and Jyrki Jokipakka wearing odd-man-out duds, Bartkowski seems ready to draw into the lineup.

Coach Glen Gulutzan, however, wouldn't fully commit to the adjustment without a night's shuteye.

"I'm not sure yet. I'm going to sleep on that one,'' he hedged. "We wanted to make sure he got through a good practice here. Yesterday we kinda gave him our 5-on-5.

"Bart's familiar with a lot of what we do. We're gonna go over the penalty-kill plan with him today and then we'll make a decision (Saturday) on what our lineup will be.

"It'll be him or Joki."

Should Bartkowski, as expected, make his NHL seasonal and Flames debut at Rogers Arena, he certainly won't feel totally out of his element.

He did, after all, spend the whole of last season as a Canuck.

"Honestly,'' parried Gulutzan, "I don't take that into consideration when I'm deciding.

"We just want to give him the best opportunity to show well."

Bartkowski seemed to enjoy the irony.

"I was supposed to come here for years, go there, play there, come back here and now I'm playing there,'' mused the 28-year-old, erroneously ticketed for Calgary as part of the Jarome Iginla deal with the Boston Bruins that fell through in March of 2013.

"So it came full circle."

There's no doubting Gulutzan's familiarity from their time together last season.

"I think,'' said Bartkowski, "that he's a great coach. He's fair to the players. He tells you exactly what he wants out of you.

"He doesn't beat around the bush; not going to give you a line of crap.

"He tells you how it is and here's what he wants. You can't ask for anything more."

What are Bartkowski's goals in a debut setting?

"Just a solid defensive effort,'' he replies. "Get the puck to the forwards. This team has a high-powered front end so I think a simpler game.

"Just make the first pass. You say it time and time again but on this team it's literally: just get the puck to the forwards and let them do the work.

"Coming here now, later in the year, it's definitely a boost of morale or energy. Whatever you want to call it. It's good."

So, unless otherwise notified, no toe-dipping Saturday.

Bartkowski wouldn't have it any other way.

"We had a really good group (in Vancouver),'' he said appreciatively. "You could go to dinner with any one of the guys on the team there, have a good time and talk. Obviously you're going to have some that you're better friends with than others.

"It's going to be good to see them all but once game-time comes, y'know, everybody says it, nobody's friends out there.

"Whatever happens, happens."

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