I think my first couple of shifts I was a little nervous. I wasn’t too sure what to expect. As the game went on, I felt a lot more confident. The boys were really supporting me and giving me advice. - Sam Bennett
CALGARY, AB -- It wasn’t the result Sam Bennett was hoping for, but the experience will undoubtedly prove valuable as the 18-year-old continues on.
Nick Bonino had two assists and the duo of Eddie Lack and Joacim Eriksson combined to make 30 saves as the Vancouver Canucks downed the Calgary Flames in preseason action at Scotiabank Saddledome on Thursday.
It was Bennett’s first taste of NHL action after missing much of training camp with a groin injury sustained in Calgary’s 6-1 win over Vancouver in the finale of the Young Star Classic in Penticton.
It didn't take him long to find his stride.
“I think my first couple of shifts I was a little nervous,” Bennett said. “I wasn’t too sure what to expect. As the game went on, I felt a lot more confident. The boys were really supporting me and giving me advice. Definitely I felt pretty confident out there.”
Bennett finished with an assist and two hits in 15:58 of ice time, including on the power play and penalty kill. He also registered a game-high seven shots.
For his effort, he was named the game’s first star and praise from coach Bob Hartley.
“Tonight it’s very simple…he was our best forward,” Hartley said. “This guy can change sides on a dime. He was exciting. He was on the puck. He was creating lots of chances. It’s only a first game but it’s quite a good impression.”
Though Bennett and the Flames couldn’t get on the board in the opening 20 minutes, there were plenty of opportunities to solve Lack with 13 shots on net, bookended by another first round pick.
Six minutes into the first and moments after Jonas Hiller’s first shot on net, Sven Baertschi found himself streaking down the wing with a step on the Vancouver defence before stepping into a blast that was gloved by Lack.
Bennett hit the post with a rocket that beat Lack to the blocker side three minutes later and with 5:48 remaining in the frame, Lance Bouma was awarded a penalty shot but couldn’t solve the Vancouver goaltender either.
With seven seconds on the clock and Calgary with the man advantage, Baertschi was thwarted again. Devin Setoguchi found Baertschi alone in the slot, but Lack smothered his second scoring chance of the period.
In the second and on just their fourth shot of the game, the Canucks solved Hiller.
Moments after a Setoguchi hooking minor expired, Chris Higgins corralled a pass from Nick Bonino and wired a shot that beat the Flames starter to put Vancouver up 1-0 just 2:45 into the middle frame.
Bennett tried to pull the Flames even with a trio of opportunities on his next shift, but his stuff from below the goal line was stopped by Lack, as was his deflection from the slot and his chance off the rush after dangling around a Canucks defender.
“Definitely I was going on that shift,” Bennett said. “Anytime I touched the puck, I seemed to get a scoring chance there. It was just one of those shifts where everything was going my way.”
At 13:26, the Canucks added to their lead after Bonino spotted Nicklas Jensen just off the goal line. Jensen caught Hiller -- who didn't see the pass -- looking the wrong way to extend the lead to two.
But Sean Monahan helped cut that lead to one with Bennett’s help.
On the power play with Jensen sitting in the box for holding, Bennett’s initial shot was blocked, but Monahan scooped up the rebound and tucked it behind Eriksson, who came in midway through the game, with 2:53 remaining in the period.
“[Bennett] reads the game well and you can read off him easily,” Monahan said. “He wants the puck and wants to take control so I think as a player you want to be out there with a guy like that. It was nice to play with him.”
Calgary, AB native Hunter Shinkaruk restored the two-goal lead at 9:49 of the third period, banging in a rebound off the initial shot from Kent Huskins behind Brad Thiessen, who came on in relief of Hiller after 40 minutes.
A shorthanded effort by Bennett with just over six minutes remaining couldn’t pull the Flames back to within one after he stepped around Luca Sbisa and fired a shot from the slot that Eriksson trapped.