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Pollock ready to suit up as rival in hometown

Brett Pollock has mixed feelings about skating at Rogers Place as a member of the Flames

by George Johnson @GeorgejohnsonCH /

CALGARY, AB -- Any lingering Edmonton-area hockey residue has obviously been scraped off with the opening of training camp.

Squinting at the image on an iPhone 5 on Monday morning, Brett Pollock was asked for his initial impression of the Oilers' freshly-unveiled mascot, Hunter.

"I don't even know what to say about that," he deadpanned. "What's it supposed to be? A lynx? Okay …

"It's a little creepy. Like a Halloween costume gone bad or something."

Yes, he'll fit in just fine.

The big centre raised in enemy territory, Sherwood Park, was for a familiar three-hour bus trip, heading back home, and an important first audition with the once-loathed, now-loved Calgary Flames.

Monday's northern end of the split-squad double-header marked the Oilers first game in the brand, spanking new, recently-christened, all-the-whistles-and-bells $480 million Rogers Place.

And Brett Pollock was one of the group heading up Highway 2, homeward-bound, for the 7 p.m. puck-drop.

Everything about his youth is entwined with Edmonton hockey. Reared in the Sherwood Park minor hockey system, he played his first game for the Oil Kings at 16 years old.

By his draft year, having sprouted to 6-foot-3 and 197 pounds, and with still plenty of room to pack on muscle, the Stars used their second-round pick, 45th overall, to select him.

Over four Western Hockey League seasons, Pollock put up 195 regular season games for the Western Hockey League's Edmonton Oil Kings. Last year, he chipped in with 78 through 72 games and, following the trade into the Flames' organization, was treated to a brief pro turn at AHL Stockton.

For an Edmonton kid and Oil King alum, venerable old Rexall Place -- where just a quick glimpse upwards at the banners of legends the luster of No's. 99, 7, 31, 17 et al, provided inspiration and impetus -- holds its share of cameo-keepsake memories for the 20-year-old.

One, in particular.

"Definitely the year we won the Memorial Cup,'' he reminisces. "That whole playoff run of 2014 was pretty special and I'll always remember it."

Nostalgia aside, Pollock's been inside the new digs he'll visit again Monday night, and came away mightily impressed.

"I skated with the Oil Kings a couple times before coming down here to camp, so I've been on the home side of the rink.

"It'll be interesting to see the away side."

A change in allegiance within this province -- borders located on either side of Red Deer -- is always a problematical matter.

Pollock, naturally, grew up with Edmonton-Calgary getting along as well as, say, cats and dogs, Coke and Pepsi, Stalin and Lenin, the Coyote and the Roadrunner.

He's gone from friend to foe, of course. From hero to villain. Han Solo to Darth Vader.

So, given the venue, cheering section and colour scheme he'll modelling, the sensation when he first sets foot on the ice at Rogers Place is apt to feel more than a bit, well, weird.

But he's expecting a lot of family support, maybe including even the odd Calgary jersey or two.

"Absolutely,'' Pollock admits. "But it's fun. The organization's treated me well and everyone here is first-class.

"It'll be interesting. My family and buddies are happy for me and they want to see me out on that ice, skating around."

There's never a second opportunity to make a good first impression, of course. Steadying the nerves, settling into the speed and physicality of the game, are what's important.

"Just do what I did to get myself here. Play a big game, use my skill and my size to create chances for myself and my linemates.

"Do things to be noticed.

"It is just another game but I am happy to be going back to Edmonton and playing against the Oilers.

"Like I said before, I'm very excited and can't wait to get it going."

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