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Cundari impresses in NHL debut

by Torie Peterson / Calgary Flames

SAINT PAUL, MN -- Mark Cundari, admittedly, doesn't have the strongest wrist shot.

I capitalized on some opportunities early and it definitely made my game a little more comfortable. - Mark Cundari on his first NHL game

He is much more comfortable sending a slap shot from the point as he's able to maximize his strength. In fact, when faced with snapping a wrister on net in tight, he'll likely look for an open man to pass to rather than take the shot.

However, he is certainly glad he didn't go with the pass-first option on Sunday night.

The 22 year-old rearguard notched his first NHL goal in the Flames 4-1 victory over the Minnesota Wild after he grabbed the puck inside of the right faceoff circle, skated in and unloaded a wrister that flew over netminder Nicklas Backstrom's left shoulder.

"I'm more of a slap shot kind of guy," he admitted after the game in Minnesota. "Up, along the blueline, one-timers with the quick release. I don't have the hardest wrist shot. So I think that one happened to be a little more accurate than anything. That was more of the reason why it went in as opposed to blatant, brute force."

Cundari had two options if he had wanted to dish the puck off to a more experienced teammate as Mike Cammalleri was directly across from him, just outside of the left faceoff circle, and Sven Baertschi was hovering at the right side of the net. The Toronto, ON product gave both a look before pulling the trigger.

"I got it back and I kind of hesitated a little bit because I saw the cross-ice pass but I really didn't want to force it there. For me, it was just pull, look across and then look back. I saw the space and just let it rip.

"(Backstrom) may have been cheating a bit, that's what left the top side open. It was a great shot in my opinion."

That tally - a power play marker - came at 13:37 in the first period. By that point, Cundari looked remarkably composed for a guy suiting up for his first game in The Show. In fact, he didn't even look a bit rattled in his first shift of the game, coming right off of the opening faceoff.

In hindsight, his first game in the NHL wasn't anything like he was expecting it to be.

"Realistically, I expected to come out here and just play against big, monstrous guys. You think of the NHL, it's the premiere league, and you get out there and you realize that you can play in this league. There's a reason why you're here too.

"For me, it was just realizing that hey, I've got to do what I'm doing or what I've been doing to get here thus far. Just keep it going. I capitalized on some opportunities early and it definitely made my game a little more comfortable."

That poise likely gave the coaching staff a boatload of confidence in the young lad, leading them to throw him out in a variety of situations and against some pretty tough competition. Cundari and his partner for the night, TJ Brodie, were tasked with shutting down the Wild's top line of Zach Parise, Mikko Koivu and Charlie Coyle on a number of occasions. By the end of the night, the duo led all Flames skaters in ice time. Cundari, who also picked up his first NHL assist in the win, logged 24:54 of ice while Brodie played 27:59.

"As you make one or two good plays within the first couple of shifts, you really come into your own zone and understand that you've got to do what you've got to do out here," Cundari explained. "And that you can get it done."

Head coach Bob Hartley was all smiles in his post-game media scrum, heaping praise on the young defenceman for his impressive debut.

"Sometimes, you meet a young man and you have a talk, and talk is cheap, but I really had a good feeling," he said. "I was anxious to see him on his first shift. I told my partners, 'We'll put him right in the starting lineup. Throw him in there and see what he's got.'

"I'm quite impressed. He's in the game, he's alert, he's talking, he has a good shot, he's not scared. He got in on a few good body checks. It was a pretty good start."

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