It’s a great feeling. It’s a dream come true. Every hockey player wants to sign that first contract with a pro team. I’m fortunate enough that it is the Calgary Flames, having been born in Calgary. - Austin Carroll
CALGARY, AB -- Austin Carroll didn’t spend his birthday blowing out candles on a cake. He was too busy putting pen to paper, ringing in his birthday by inking his first professional contract with the Calgary Flames.
“It’s probably been my most memorable (birthday),” Carroll said. “It’s a great feeling. It’s a dream come true. Every hockey player wants to sign that first contract with a pro team. I’m fortunate enough that it is the Calgary Flames, having been born in Calgary.
“It definitely won’t be a day I forget anytime soon.”
Nor should he.
The Flames were Carroll’s favourite team growing up. Spending his early years in Calgary, the now 6-foot-4, 224-pound left winger had a strong affinity for his hometown team. And while his family moved south when he was six years old, first a year in San Francisco before settling in Arizona, that love of the Flames never ceased.
Now, he’s one step closer to his dream.
“Growing up as a kid, if you would’ve told me I’d be signing my first contract with the Flames it would’ve been a long shot,” said Carroll, who is in his fourth and final season with the Victoria Royals. “Now that it’s done, it’s definitely a surreal moment. I couldn’t be happier. It’s the first step of the process. The hard work starts now. I’m looking forward to the opportunity in the next few years.”
After going undrafted in his first year of eligibility, Calgary invited Carroll attended the Flames' development camp in 2013 and continued to impress with a team-leading 34 goals, 57 points and 114 penalty minutes in 70 games in 2013-14.
Calgary plucked the forward in the seventh round (No. 184) of the 2014 NHL Draft last June.
It fulfilled one dream. The signing? Another.
It’s an opportunity well earned.
“We got into the seventh round and there was going to be a fist fight at the table if he wasn't selected from one of our western guys, so we took him,” Flames general manager Brad Treliving said.
“First of all, credit to him -- he's put the work in -- and credit to the scouts. Thus far, we'll see where it goes, but this looks to be a real good seventh-round pick. This is a big, strong guy, but he's not just a big body, he can play, too. He was close to 40 goals this year and he's got a great release and, to me, he's just starting to develop.
“There's an interesting package of here of some size, bite and some interesting ability here.
“He is a big man and an ornery son of a gun, which we like. Not only progression this year, but even going back two years with this guy and it's come. You have to be careful with skating. Skating is such an important part here and it can get better. We're going to have a plan for him over the course of the summer to continue to get stronger but lean out and increase his quickness.”
Fast-forward a season later and the numbers read 38 goals, 39 assists, 77 points and 124 minutes in penalties in 2014-15. They’re all career-bests for Carroll, as he and the Royals prepare for a date with the Prince George Cougars in the opening round of the WHL Playoffs.
Those numbers, and the strides he’s made in terms of development, prompted the signing.
“He's really had a great year,” Flames general manager Brad Treliving said. “Going back into training camp, he came in and had an impressive camp. He got into one or two exhibition games and he left an impression through camp and the message to him was to go back, work on a few things, in terms of going back to Victoria, but have a good year.
“And he's done that. At times, he's been a dominant player in Victoria, now getting ready for the playoffs there, so well-deserving of the contract here today.”
The playoffs -- not the contract -- are where Carroll’s attention lies.
Even if there is the possibility he could make his pro debut at some point should the Royals make an early exit.
“We want him focusing on his playoffs,” Treliving said. “I talked to Austin the other and I said, 'you get this contract signed and it's a credit and it's exciting, but there's hockey left in Victoria’. They've got a chance to maybe do something there, so that's his focus.”
The thought lines up with the budding prospect, whom regardless of outcome is nearing the end of his time with the Royals.
“Right now playing for the Victoria Royals and it’s my last junior season here,” Carroll said. “All of my focus is on helping us go as far as we can in the playoffs and until the day comes and we do get knocked out, it remains with them. We’ll go as far as we can and if the day does come we get knocked out, I’ll be disappointed but excited to get my first few pro games in.”
For now, he’ll have to settle with excitement with inking his first contract.
His birthday, too.
“This has been happening the past few days now so I told my mom it doesn’t even seem like my birthday because I’ve been so excited about signing my first contract,” Carroll said. “It is weird but exciting at the same time.”