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Ferland enjoys success one year into sobriety

by Staff Writer / Calgary Flames

CALGARY, AB -- Thunderous checks, and plenty of them, have forward Michael Ferland gaining plenty of attention.

But there's something more important that he'd like to be known for: sobriety.

Ferland, who turned 23 on Monday, has been sober for nearly 13 months.

Michael Ferland
Left Wing  - CGY
Goals: 0 | Assists: 1 | Pts: 1
Hits: 18 | PIM: 19

"I think about that every day," Ferland said. "A year ago today, I was in rehab. I didn't think I would be playing in the Stanley Cup Playoffs right now."

It's not hard to imagine a different, darker path for Ferland.

A year ago, he was rehabilitating a knee injury sustained around Christmas in practice with the Abbotsford Heat in the American Hockey League, then Calgary's minor-league affiliate. He found himself on the surgeon's table, and, eventually, the office of Flames coach Bob Hartley.

The latter trip helped put Ferland on a better path.

"Once in a while you are going to see a red flag," Hartley said. "The more I was around this kid, I could feel that there might have been a problem. I could see good days and bad days for him.

"At a point, I kind of challenged him. I had my information on him, so I knew a little bit where I was going. I was just ready to help if he was ready to make a commitment to his life. My message to him was very simple: As a coach, we all care about careers, but I'll take it further with you; I care about your life. I don't believe you can have a career if you don't have a life."

Ferland, a native of Swan River, Manitoba, has since seen his life and career blossom, and he's filling an important role for the Flames in their first playoff appearance since 2009.

The Vancouver Canucks, who trail Ferland and the Flames 2-1 in the Western Conference First Round best-of-7 series that resumes with Game 4 on Tuesday (8 p.m. MT; CBC), can attest to his growth on the hockey side of things.

Called "Ferklund … or whatever his name is," by Canucks defenceman Kevin Bieksa following a supercharged conclusion to Game 2 between the two Pacific Division rivals, Ferland is acquitting himself well, if not endearing himself to his opponent.

With a total of 29 NHL games under his belt, Ferland has provided much more than the single assist that shows on his stat line through three games against Vancouver. A series-leading 18 hits paint a better picture of Ferland's impact.

"I think he's been impactful for us, for our team, and our energy," said Flames forward Matt Stajan, who anchors a line between Ferland and David Jones. "Whatever (the Canucks) want to say about it, he's been a big part of our success so far in the three games we played.

"He's just a great kid, and I think he's been through a lot in his life already. He's had to battle a bad knee injury and rehab from that last year. He's overcome a lot in his personal life. He's here now and he's taking advantage of his opportunity. He's playing great and he's been key in creating the energy that we've been able to create in the first three games, especially last night with the crowd.

"He deserves everything he's getting right now and he wants more."

Ferland is relishing the opportunity, which came as a result of an upper-body injury to fellow bruising forward Lance Bouma.

"I think I'm starting to frustrate them, for sure," Ferland said. "I don't want to take it too far and cross the line, but at the same time I want to play hard and finish all my hits. Every time I step on the ice, I've got way more confidence. I'm having fun right now, and the atmosphere in the rink is unbelievable.

"I'm just trying to take everything day by day and just enjoy it."

That motto, day by day, is not unfamiliar to those in recovery.

Ferland, who was in rehab for a month, regularly attends Alcoholics Anonymous meetings.

And though it's been a little more than a calendar year (March 27 is the anniversary), Ferland's journey hasn't been a quick one.

But the strides he's made have been.

"I had him in my video room and I told him, a year ago he was in rehab or coming out of rehab and here he is playing a dominant role in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs," Hartley said. "It's an amazing story, very positive."

It's a perspective Ferland is starting to comprehend.

"I never really understood it, but now my life's starting to unfold in front of me now. I'm just enjoying it," he said. "It's the best decision I've ever made and I'm just having a lot of fun right now."

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