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Ferland demonstrates unity in Flames win

by George Johnson @GeorgejohnsonCH /

CALGARY, AB -- For obvious reasons, Matthew Tkachuk had the high-beams on Friday night.

Difficult to tell, though, which of two moments actually produced a higher wattage of blinding Pepsodent/game-show-host grin:

Alter prodding home his first (if unofficial) NHL goal, stationed in his customary rental district near the threshold of the net at 14:34 of the second period.

Or after Micheal Ferland, in a don't-mess-with-my-buddy mood, dropped pesky Canucks' centre Joseph Labate like a sack of wet grain in retribution for an iffy hit on the freshman winger minutes earlier.

"Oh, when Ferly came back to the bench after serving (the five minutes),'' confessed Tkachuk. "That just shows what kind of teammate he is.

"Shows that we're in this together.

"I told him I owed him one."

Labate had drawn an interference minor for his late rub along the woodwork that sent the Calgary Flames' top draft pick briefly to the dressing room.

In short order, though, Tkachuk returned to the fray.

"I just got hit,'' he explained later, "and they wanted to check me out.

"I'm fine."

Less than four minutes after Labate clattered late into Tkachuk, Ferland, with malice aforethought, sailed into Labate. And eight minutes after that, Tkachuk was johnny-on-the-spot to cash the eventual game winner, via power play, in a 2-1 pre-season shading of the Vancouver Canucks.

Consider that string of events part of the ongoing big-league acclimatization of Matthew Tkachuk.

"That,'' he said, of his penchant for goalmouth snipes, "is where the goals are scored. It's a little bit tougher than in junior, though.

"You've got those D out there who are 6-4, 6-5, 220 pushing you out the way. It's tough but you've got to keep at it. I know what my strengths are.

"If I want to be successful, that's where I have to be. But you don't really know how strong they are until you're in a scrum with them, or in a corner."

There were a few positives to glean for the hometown squad. 

Another nice turn from goalie Brian Elliott, the only shot to elude him over 40 minutes of toil a poison-dart, high glove side from Canucks' Guillaume Brisebois.

True, a couple of posts came to Elliott's aid - the second one, a snap-shot from Tour Ruutu elicited a clank that must've been audible in Okotoks - but the de facto No. 1 was sharp again in repelling 17 shots.

And, again, the Matthew Tkachuk- Troy Brouwer - Sam Bennett line shone.

Brouwer scored the game-opening goal, whipping home a short pass from Bennett, and drew an assist on Tkachuk's decider.

And then there was Ferland's message-sending.

"Just sticking up for a teammate,'' he parried, as if it was the most obvious thing in the world. "I didn't see the hit but (Tkachuk) was kinda shaken up and I thought it was the right thing to do.

"There's a culture in the dressing room. And it's part of the game."

Incoming coach Glen Gulutzan has been preaching the necessity of playing as a single unit; dependent upon and responsible for one another.

Ferland's rushing to the aid of the party is exactly that.

"We've talked about being together, playing together, sticking together, five guys,'' said Gulutzan at his post-game media availability. "A pack mentality. Ferly exemplified that today.

"And after the second period, I talked to the guys about it; made mention of what Ferly did, and I thought we had a way better third."

Given the size of the players, increased speed of the game at this level, Tkachuk learned a valuable that everyone endeavouring to make the quantum leap from junior to the NHL must undergo at one time or another.

"You've got to be aware on the ice,'' reasoned the old hand, Brouwer. "Sometimes junior moves a little slower. If you admire your pass a little bit or take too much time there's going to be a guy on you up here.

"There's a lot of big boys in this league who can put you on your butt so you'd better you're not putting yourself in vulnerable position.

"You're going to get hit once in a while. There's no way around that.

"I thought he did a good job of taking the hit. And I thought Ferly did a phenomenal job of standing up for him, as well.

"It's good to make that statement early. That doesn't mean you have to fight every single time but standing in, giving him a push, a shove, letting him know that's not going to be tolerated."

Tkachuk arrived at this camp with staggeringly high expectations. The relief, then, at opening his pre-season account was palpable Friday night.

"I was … not fishing one for the last couple of games,'' he hedged, "but I wanted to get the first one out of the way.

"So when I did I was really, really happy."

Every bit as pleased as the rest of the guys in the Flames' room. 

"It's always nice to score,'' said Brouwer, glancing over at the the kid 13 years his junior. "No matter when.

"You want to have that good feeling going into the start of the season.

"You don't want to feel the squeeze even before the season starts. I remember my first one, even in pre-season. 

"It felt great and I know he's going to enjoy it tonight."

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