He’s got a lot more skill than sometimes people think, so we’re really starting to see him make plays right now as he’s building his confidence. - Matt Stajan
CALGARY, AB -- Lance Bouma isn’t far removed from the lowest point in his hockey career.
Skating with the Abbotsford Heat during the work stoppage, Bouma blew out his right knee before action at the NHL level resumed, effectively ending his year just three games into the 2012-13 season.
Admittedly, it wasn’t the best of times for the 23-year-old.
“Yeah, oh for sure,” Bouma said. “Obviously. It was tough there for a while, just sitting there waiting for surgery to happen and then when it finally happened, you have to start the rehab all over again. It was a long year.
“Right after the surgery it was pretty tough and leading up to the surgery was pretty tough not knowing what’s going to happen or how you’re going to feel after.”
But at no point did Bouma think a return to the National Hockey League was out of the question.
Having just 43 career NHL games under his belt split between two seasons before going under the knife, the 6-foot-1, 210-pound winger never lost the belief that he’d find his way back onto the Flames roster.
He knew he’d be back.
“I wasn’t worried,” he said. “That was the one thing about Calgary, they gave me a lot of confidence. They said right away, ‘don’t worry, just get healthy and we’ll sign you and you’ll get another chance’. That was huge to get that from there. I just focused on getting better.”
Though his statistics aren’t overwhelming, Bouma has already established new career marks with four goals, six assists and 10 points.
But lately, the third round pick from 2008 has been particularly good. He’s recorded two goals and an assist over his past four games skating on a line with Matt Stajan and David Jones.
Stajan believes Bouma is proving he can be more than just a shot blocker.
“He’s got a lot more skill than sometimes people think, so we’re really starting to see him make plays right now as he’s building his confidence,” he said. “We’re really starting to see that this past few weeks as he’s scored some goals and getting more ice time.
“He works so hard and he’s such a good guy. I’ve got nothing but praise for him and he’s just going to keep getting better as he gets confident and gets more comfortable in the league.”
It’s been confidence that’s propelled the Flames forward of late. Since scoring against the Winnipeg Jets on Jan. 16, Bouma’s taken his game to a new level.
The only thing that’s changed in the game of the former Vancouver Giants standout is the growing belief he has in himself.
“Confidence is the biggest thing,” he said. “I’ve gained a little confidence after scoring the goal against Winnipeg and from there I’ve just felt like I could play a little bit more and handle the puck more. It’s been going good so far.
“I feel a lot more confident with the puck. I’m making better plays out there and making plays when I’ve got more time. It’s been going pretty good so far.”
Good enough for coach Bob Hartley to call Bouma the “most improved player” on his rebuilding Flames squad.
But his improvement isn’t a surprise for those that were around Bouma during his lowest point a year ago.
“This guy didn’t play last year [because of knee surgery] we saw him in the gym and [he] worked every day, showed up in the gym and showed up to camp in great shape which was absolutely no surprise to us,” Hartley said. “He’s one of the first guys on the ice at practice and game days, same thing. He’s committed to get better and he wants to be an NHL player. He’s a gritty player willing to block shots.
“I have lots of time for Boums. His progression is not a surprise to us.”