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Bennett focused on finding stride with Frontenacs

by Aaron Vickers / Calgary Flames
It’s definitely really nice to be back playing again. Five months is a long time to be off the ice. It’s a great feeling to play again and I’m looking to get our team on a roll here.Sam Bennett
Sam Bennett hasn't pouted. Didn’t sulk. Didn’t get upset.

He’s just happy to be back.

“It’s definitely really nice to be back playing again,” said Bennett, who was sidelined since the start of the year after undergoing surgery in October to repair a torn labrum in his left shoulder and, when deemed healthy, was optioned back to the Kingston Frontenacs to start his season. “Five months is a long time to be off the ice. It’s a great feeling to play again and I’m looking to get our team on a roll here.”

The Flames announced Feb. 21 that Bennett, Calgary’s top pick (No. 4) in the 2014 NHL Draft would be best served playing for the Ontario Hockey League’s Frontenacs for the duration of the season. The 18-year-old returned to Kingston where he played the last two seasons, suiting up in 117 games for Kingston and amassing 131 points (54G, 77A) and 205 penalty minutes.

Tack on another four goals and eight points, as well as eight minutes in solitary through five skates to those totals, too.

He hasn’t skipped a beat.

“I was a little worried he was going to be disappointed about going down,” said Flames assistant general manager Craig Conroy, who was on hand to watch Bennett piece together his best of the five, a two-goal performance on Wednesday. “This guy is just a hockey player. He’s just excited to be playing and be on the ice with his teammates. Not being in Calgary probably was a big disappointment when we told him he was going down. Not now.

“Everything is 100 percent on the go. He’s excited to be back with his teammates and everything like that.”

Understandably, though, there was a little sting in being returned to junior.

Having spent five months in Calgary rehabbing the injury, Bennett felt he was close to marking his National Hockey League debut this year with the Flames.

Kingston GM Doug Gilmour saw that in his player.

“You can tell it in his face,” said Gilmour, who spent 1,474 games in the NHL himself. “There’s obviously disappointment. He would’ve liked to stay up, but how the Flames are going so well and fighting for that playoff spot and for a guy that’s missed a whole year, it’s just not that easy to come back in. When they made the decision coming back, you could see his eyes lit up. He was ready. He wanted to play.”

Now that he is playing again, that disappointment has quickly faded.

Nerves, momentarily, replaced the emotion.

But tentativeness? That didn’t cross Bennett’s mind.

“It was a weird feeling during my first shift back,” he said. “I was so excited and even a little nervous for my first game. It was a great feeling. The shoulder is good. It’s feeling fine. It feels 100 percent. I think playing a game I wasn’t really too sure how it would feel but after my first couple of shifts I realized it was fine and there was no hesitation after that. I’m really happy with how my recovery’s been and I have Calgary to thank for that, for sure.”

Conroy and Calgary might thank Bennett if he reels it in though, just a tad.

“The way he competed, he’s fearless out there almost to a point where you’d like him to shy away…not shy away but he takes every big hit possible,” Conroy said. “I remember a guy like Jeremy Roenick, where he flies around and gives big hits and takes big hits. I just hope Sam doesn’t take too many big hits. If he can move out of the way that’s no problem. That’s fine with me.

“He just seems happy being back playing, too. That’s the key for me. The shoulder feels good. He’s just really, really looking forward to getting back into it. Go down, play, get your game back, help Kingston go as far as you can and then we’ll make some decisions from that point.”

The decision? What becomes of Bennett after his season in Kingston comes to an end.

The Flames will have the option of recalling the 6-foot-1 centre to the big club, or assign him to Adirondack of the American Hockey League.

But Bennett isn’t thinking that far ahead.

He’s just enjoying being back.

“Obviously there are options but my main focus is with Kingston right now,” Bennett said. “I’m not really too worried about that. I guess we’ll have to wait and see how the season and the playoffs turn out with Kingston first.”

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