Mikael Backlund admitted to being a little nervous. It just didn't show as the top forward prospect in the Calgary Flames system hit the ice Sunday for a game against prospects in the Edmonton Oilers system in at Encana Arena in Camrose.
Backlund, the Flames first round pick in 2006, arrived from his native Sweden on Wednesday and admitted to having a little jet lag for a couple of days. None of that was present Sunday as the slick skating, slick puck-handling Backlund helped the Flames defeat the Oilers 1-0 in the first game of a rookie tournament in Camrose between the Flames, Oilers and Vancouver Canucks.
Goalie Matt Keetley stopped 22 shots for the shutout.
"It felt way better today," smiled Backlund. "Way better than yesterday. Yesterday was hard."
The crafty Backlund showed his skills in the first, taking a drop pass inside the Oilers blueline and blasting a rocket just high over the Oilers net. He was evident throughout the game as his speedy feet kept him darting in and out of the open spots in the offensive zone. He also demonstrated, on the power play, that he can handle the puck and looked very confident working the half boards and either shooting or passing the puck.
Backlund, starting on a line with Kyle Greentree and 2008 first round pick Greg Nemisz, had a slight advantage over some in the game -- he had already played five games in Sweden with his club team, Vasteras.
"It was more skating than workouts," said Backlund of his last couple of months. "In Sweden in August and September you do a lot of skating because you start playing exhibition games and the season starts earlier," said Backlund.
In fact, had Backlund not come to Canada for the Flames training camp, he would likely be starting in a regular season game Wednesday in Sweden.
"We don't really have a camp," said the 19-year-old Backlund. "The team is the team. When things start, you practice and that is the team. I've been playing all over the place. Because I was coming here they didn't want to put me on a line because they were preparing for the first game. So I have been playing everywhere. Right wing. Left Wing. Centre. Fourth line. First line."
For the record Backlund played centre on Sunday against the Oilers -- a position the organization expects him to play for a long time in the future.
The Flames led 1-0 after the first period courtesy of a Brett Sutter shorthanded goal. The son of general manager Darryl Sutter, had fur goals and six assists in 75 games with Quad City, the Flames top affiliate in the American Hockey League, last season. He had several more chances throughout the game and came close to scoring a second in the second period but shot the puck just over Oiler goalie Devan Dubnyk's shoulder and wide from in close
"We were short and the guy kind of bobbled it. I was thinking pass all the way but the guy went down on his knee and I was able to get it over him," said Sutter.
Sutter was impressed with some of the Flames younger players, including Backlund. "It's not easy coming in and having all the scouts and everybody watching. I think they kept everything in check."
There was one big tussle in the first period as Flame forward J.D Watt and Oiler Theo Peckham got the Battle of Alberta simmering with a spirited fight. Throughout the game there was no lack of intensity -- plenty of scrums after whistles and lots of hitting from both sides.
"Our game plan was to play rough and they came right back at us," said Sutter. "The first couple of periods were getting pretty rough. It was a free for all out there for a while."
Flames defenceman Matt Pelech, another of the first round draft picks dressed for the game, stepped up along the boards in the second period and crunched Bryan Lerg in the open ice. He was immediately jumped by Hans Benson of the Oilers although nothing much, except a four-minute power play for the Flames, came of the outburst.
There was a scary moment for Greentree in the third period when he was drilled, head-first into the boards by Geoff Paukovich. A stretcher was brought out onto the ice for Greentree and, although it appeared he might be able to get off the ice on his own, he was eventually placed on the stretcher and taken off the ice with 15:16 remaining in the game.
Paukovich overreacted to a hit moments before from Flames forward Adam Cracknell with the hit from behind on Greentree. He received a major for boarding and a game misconduct. Coincidentally, Paukovich broke the neck of player with a hit in a game in 2005. That player, Rob Bina, is part of the Oilers prospect roster for the tournament.
"It was unfortunate," said Pelech. "Obviously the guy didn't mean to do that. It was a penalty. He was just playing hard. I'm just hoping it is not serious and I would think that he would be thinking the same way."
There was no immediate word on the condition of Greentree, a forward acquired in a trade with Philadelphia over the summer.
Keetley admitted to a rather wobbly start to the game.
"I was a little shaky out there at the start. I think I settled down and the guys settled down. They did a god job defensively. They kept the shots on net pretty basic for me," said Keetley.
The Flames second game of the tournament is against Vancouver Monday at 7 p.m. MT. The game will again be streamed live onto www.calgaryflames.com.
NOTEWORTHY: With about three minutes left in the warm-up the glass behind the Flames net was shattered courtesy a hard wrister that delayed the start of the game. It marked the second time the Flames had broken a pane of glass at the Encana Arena. One also broke during their morning skate. Just 1:32 into the first period the same pane came loose and fell to the ice after Colin McDonald rubbed Flames defenceman John Negrin into the boards near the pane. That caused another delay in the game.