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BARTKOWSKI SET TO MAKE FLAMES DEBUT

The defenceman is slated to skate alongside Dennis Wideman tonight in Vancouver

by TORIE PETERSON @ToriePeterson / CalgaryFlames.com

Matt Bartkowski knows all about the Flames vs. Canucks rivarly.

But not from this side of the ice.

Calgary's newest defenceman is set to make his Flames debut against his former team, skating alongside Dennis Wideman in tonight's clash with the Vancouver Canucks (8:00 PM; CBC, SN960).

"It's kind of ironic, first game back in (Vancouver)," Barkowski noted after the morning skate at Rogers Arena. "It will be fun. I've always liked playing old teams. It's good.

"It feels great. It's what I've been waiting for, working for and playing for. It's great."

Bartkowski, who signed a two-year contract with the Flames on Thursday, is already feeling acclimatized to his new team thanks in large part to his familiarity with Glen Gulutzan, who coached him during the pair's days with the Canucks.

"It's been pretty easy just because Gully was in (Vancouver) and he brought a lot of what we did there over here. With that, it's been a pretty simple transition, system-wise and all that. Then there's fitting in the room and meeting the guys … it's been a quick learning curve but it's a really good group of guys. It's been pretty easy."

From Gulutzan's perspective, a key factor in getting Bartkowski into the lineup so quickly is knowing what he brings at the NHL level. Given his past experiences with the 28-year-old blueliner, he has a good sense of where he will fit with the Flames defensive corps.

"It makes it easier because you know what he's capable of. You know what his limits are. It's just about, now, putting him in the right spot so that he can have success," Gulutzan explained.

"The league is a lot about slotting - slot guys into the right spot. So we'll put him in on the third pair, give him some five-on-five ice. He penalty killed a little for us here in Vancouver a year ago. We won't start much of that tonight but we'll get him five-on-five ice."

Looking back on their days in Vancouver and observing the defenceman over the course of the 2015-16 season, Gulutzan can see Bartkowski fitting perfectly within the Flames' systems.

"He's a great skater. He's a fantastic skater. The way we want to play, we want to play fast. We want to defend fast. He has the ability to do that with his feet. That's something we're going to continue to work on with him but he has the ability, the way he skates."

For Bartkowski, tonight's game plan can be boiled down to simplicity. While there is plenty of emotion surrounding tonight's affair, he isn't looking at any differently from any other skate.

"At the end of the day, it's a game. You can't let yourself get too tangled up and too high and run on just sheer emotion, because normally things go bad then. You've just got to remember to stay level-headed and play the game."

NOTES: The Flames will also make a change up front, with Freddie Hamilton jumping back into the lineup and Alex Chiasson sitting as a healthy scratch. "Freddie played in this building the last time we played here. He had a real strong game, was good in the face-off circle, which is something we weren't good in (vs.) Philadelphia so we made the change," Gulutzan said of the lineup swap. Forward Garnet Hathaway and defenceman Jyrki Jokipakka will also sit as healthy scratches this evening ... The Canucks will host their Hockey Talks Night this evening. Alex Burrows, a long-time supporter of the iniaitive, spoke of his personal connection with Hockey Talks after the Canucks morning practice. "Obviously mental health is really important. As pro athletes, we need to get the word out that it is okay to talk about it. Sometimes, the biggest challenge is to let people know it's okay to talk about it and to reach out for help."

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