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Flames' Bennett not playing like rookie

by Staff Writer / Calgary Flames

CALGARY, AB -- The Calgary Flames aren't hesitating to play rookie Sam Bennett in Game 3 of the best-of-7 Western Conference Second Round series at home against the Anaheim Ducks on Tuesday (7:30 PM MT; USA, SN, TVA Sports), his 10th game of the season, despite his contract status.

"Contracts don't matter to us," Flames coach Bob Hartley said Monday. "We're a pro organization, a very classy organization, and never have I had a conversation with [general manager] Brad Treliving or [president of hockey operations] Brian Burke about the contract of Sam Bennett. They always allow me to play the players that we feel will help us win.

"Sam Bennett will be in the lineup [Tuesday]."

The NHL's Collective Bargaining Agreement allows for nine games from the start of the regular season during which a player on his entry-level contract can be evaluated. A 10th game burns the first season of the three-year entry-level contract.

"I'm still prepared to play," Bennett said. "I'm not really going to think about it. It's not going to change anything. It's just another game, so I'm not really going to worry about it. I don't think anything has changed. I've been told to be ready, just like I was the nine games before."

Bennett's route to 10 games has been unorthodox.

After being the fourth player selected in the 2014 NHL Draft, Bennett was with the Flames in training camp but was had shoulder surgery to repair a torn labrum in mid-October. He rejoined the Flames for practice in February. Once he was medically cleared to play, Bennett was returned to the Kingston Frontenacs of the Ontario Hockey League.

The 18-year-old had 11 goals and 24 points in 11 regular-season games for the Frontenacs, and had three assists in Kingston's four-game playoff loss to the North Bay Battalion.

Following the elimination, Bennett was recalled by the Flames on April 3 and was a healthy scratch for three games before making his NHL debut in Calgary's final regular season game against the Winnipeg Jets.

Bennett has been a fixture in the lineup since, dressing for all six games of Calgary's first round series against the Vancouver Canucks and the first two against the Ducks in the second round.

"I definitely wasn't expecting this but the way my year has gone, I think anything could happen," Bennett said. "I wasn't expecting it but this is one of the most exciting ways to start your career. It's been unbelievable. It's been so exciting. At the beginning, I was so nervous and not knowing what to expect. But now, I feel completely comfortable playing in a Stanley Cup Playoff game. It's amazing how far I've come in a month and I'm just looking forward to the upcoming games."

His growth, from the debut in Winnipeg in which Bennett scored his first NHL point 33 seconds into his first shift, to becoming a fixture in Calgary's lineup has been quick.

Bennett replaced Calder Trophy nominee Johnny Gaudreau on Calgary's top line alongside Sean Monahan and Jiri Hudler in Game 2.

"Those kids, you have to allow them, even though it's the playoffs and it's must win, they're kids," Hartley said. "His grit, his competitive level, his nature, he's a winner. He's a pit bull, that kid. He wants to play and he wants to go hard. We are trying to teach him NHL hockey at the same time as he is helping us in the playoffs. I think it's a win-win situation for everyone and he's a great kid to work with."

Bennett's three goals are tied for the team lead in the playoffs with Hudler, and he scored the only goal against Ducks goaltender Frederik Andersen in the series in Game 1.

"My goal was, when I was coming in here, to be a difference for this team and help this team win," Bennett said. "I'm pretty happy with my performance, but I think I can still bring more so that's what I'm going to be looking to do.

"I'm just here to play hockey and help this team win. I'm not going to worry about all that other stuff."

Author: Aaron Vickers | Correspondent

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