I told him after the game, right after the game he was walking out and I told him, ‘you get ready, you’re playing’. He had that big smile. He’s a kid. He brings lots of excitement, lots of passion. Lets drop the puck and let him have fun. - Bob Hartley
WINNIPEG, MB -- Sam Bennett has impatiently waited.
But his National Hockey League debut has arrived.
“He’s been a pain most of the winter that he spent with us but we didn’t try to slow him down,” Calgary Flames coach Bob Hartley said in advance of Bennett's debut Saturday against the Winnipeg Jets. “We would talk with him and we would go back in the coaches office and we would laugh between us. He didn’t care about the NHL rules. He wanted to be part of warm-ups when he was not even an active player. ‘What do you mean? What do you mean? I need to be an active player? Make me an active player’. It was painful. It was funny but gosh, every day there was a story about Sammy.
“He had his salesman suit on every day from the trainers to the equipment guys to the coaches and even (general manager Brad Treliving). ‘I’m ready, what are we waiting for?’ He’s a true competitor. That’s why he’s the guy we wanted at the draft.”
The Flames guaranteed a berth in the Stanley Cup Playoffs with a 3-1 win against the Los Angeles Kings on Thursday.
It also guaranteed Bennett’s debut against the Jets.
“I told him after the game, right after the game he was walking out and I told him, ‘you get ready, you’re playing’,” said Hartley, who will also see defencemen John Ramage and Brett Kulak debut. “He had that big smile. He’s a kid. He brings lots of excitement, lots of passion. Lets drop the puck and let him have fun.”
The 18-year-old seemed well on his way to making his debut in October.
Calgary’s top pick (No. 4) in the 2014 NHL Draft was in the midst of making his bid to crack the Flames roster out of training camp, but was instead shut down when it was decided he would undergo surgery to repair a torn labrum in his left shoulder.
The injury denied Bennett’s bid to make the Flames and sidelined him for the next five months, limiting the first rounder to training sessions with strength and conditioning coach Ryan Van Asten and rare skates with others restricted to similar workloads.
But, finally cleared three weeks into February, the Flames decided that the Holland Landing, ON native was best served getting up to speed with his junior club and optioned Bennett to the Ontario Hockey League’s Kingston Frontenacs, where he previously amassed 54 goals and 131 points in 117 games over two seasons before being drafted last June.
He accumulated another 11 goals and 24 points in 11 regular season skates with Kingston before adding three assists as Kingston was swept in the first round in the OHL Playoffs.
As a result of his junior season being over, Bennett was eligible to be added back to Calgary’s roster.
He was, and after joining the Flames a week ago and serving as a healthy scratch for the past three games, Bennett is finally set to debut.
“When he was injured he kind of practiced with us but we were kind of watching him or telling him to be careful,” Hartley said. “Now, he’s played in the OHL, he’s played 14 games. His shoulder is fine.
“I think that tonight there’s no limits. It’s all about playing the right way and playing a good game. It’s his first NHL game so obviously it’s a big day for Sam.”