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Brouwer/Bennett duo set for a test run at camp

Glen Gulutzan likes the dynamics one brings to the other and plans on leaving tutor and pupil alone for a while to work on a rapport

by George Johnson @GeorgejohnsonCH /

The ongoing evolution of Sam Bennett, his growing comfort level within the framework of the Calgary Flames, was illustrated Friday afternoon in response to a question regarding his familiarity with rookie Matthew Tkachuk.

"I don't know him that well,'' admitted Bennett, in full interview mode. "I talked to him a little bit today. He seems like a good kid …"

A good … kid?


Bennett, need anyone be reminded, is a freshly-minted 20 years old.

"Did I?" he stammered sheepishly. "I didn't. I did?"

Ah, the impetuosity of youth.

"Well, he is two years younger than me."

And Sam Bennett does play older than his years.

More responsibility. More production. More influence. More minutes. 

Just, more.

That's what the Flames are projecting in Year 2 for fast-maturing Sam Bennett.

A tip-off to the increasing role planned for him this season was the guy stationed directly to Bennett's right during Friday's first on-ice training-camp sessions at the Scotiabank Saddledome: Prize off-season catch Troy Brouwer.

Coach Glen Gulutzan likes the dynamics one brings to the other; plans on leaving tutor and pupil alone for a while to work on a rapport.

Now Gulutzan isn't expecting a zen-like ESP kinetic bond that, say, the Sedin twins displayed nightly during his three years as an assistant coach in Vancouver.

But he's intrigued to see what sort of fission the collaboration yields.

"I'm going to keep that pair together and see how it goes,'' confirmed Gulutzan. "Chemistry sometimes isn't instant. It takes a while to build it. 

"I think he's a great partner for Sam right now. I think when you have young centremen in the National Hockey League you need to surround them with good veteran guys and Troy is one of those guys.

"I've talked to Troy about it. I've touched base with Sam a little bit about it.

"Certainly you can read into that." 

Consider it read.

Bennett and Brouwer.

The Killer Bs.

"Getting to skate with him today in practice,'' enthused Bennett, "you can learn a lot from a guy like that, with that much experience, that many games under his belt.

"Just being able to watch him, how he acts on and off the ice, is going to be big for a young guy, a guy like me."

The 31-year-old Brouwer has an 11-year/535-game, 257-point, one-Stanley-Cup-ring head start on the Flames' highest-ever draft selection.

And the additional role of mentor/example/pal is fine by him.

"I want to be one of those players that's looked at as a guy who can help out young players who are good and looking to take the next step,'' said Brouwer.

"I'm not saying I'm a guru or anything by any means, but I've been around for about 10 years now and played with a lot of really good young players. When I was younger I played with a lot of good older players that helped me out. Not that I'm going to try to take over or anything, but I've been in a lot of different situations with a lot of different players and any experience I can bring to help guys out is part of the reason I was brought in."

Gulutzan's insistence that he'll give the partnership some time is key. So often, potential are sacrificed in the name of expediency; because there may seem to be no organic kinship during one game, or one period or even one shift.

"You notice it right away if there's natural chemistry,'' said Bennett, "but if you get the chance to play with someone long enough, you can develop it.

"And it's always a great thing to have.

"It's tougher on players if you're playing with somebody different every night. It's tough to get into a rhythm.

"All my life I've found one guy and played with that player. It just makes it easier. If you have that chemistry between two guys, you can throw someone over on that other side and it'll usually work well.

"When I was younger it was (Connor) McDavid. We had that chemistry for almost eight years. Then in junior, my first two years I played with a guy named Henri Ikonen" - now playing for the AHL Syracuse Crunch - "and I found instant chemistry with him. He had a lot to do with all the success I had in my draft year."

Like the rest of us, Brouwer will undoubtedly take a shine to Bennett's sass, the understated yet undeniable edge to his game.

With an 18-goal, 36-point first full season in the books, it feels as if the moment has arrived for Sam Bennett's graduation party.

If Troy Brouwer can help facilitate the festivities, so much the sweeter.

Bennett himself is experiencing those vibes.

"I do. I feel great coming into camp this year. With the new coaches there's a tonne of new opportunity and I want to take advantage of that.

"Hopefully I can get off to a good start. I'm excited to see what happens."

In that, he's far from alone.

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