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FLAMES EXTRA - GETTING THE CALL

Every player on the farm dreams of picking up the phone and hearing he's been summoned to the big club

by AARON VICKERS @aavickers / calgaryflames.com

Mark Jankowski will never forget that first goal.

And while it might not have quite that same tingle of that first tickling of the twine, Jankowski isn't about to forget the steps he took to get there.  

Nor that first call to come up from Stockton to try.  

"It was a pretty special feeling," said Jankowski, who netted his first NHL marker in a 6-3 win against the Detroit Red Wings on Thursday - just a few weeks shy of the one-year anniversary of his first recall to the Flames. 

"It was last year near the end of November. It was actually funny. We just played in Ontario (California) the night before, and we had our worst road trip of the year travel-wise. Right after the game we drove to Tucson on the bus and we got in at eight in the morning. The sun was already up. Some guys, instead of going to sleep, went right to breakfast.

"I went right to sleep. We had a day off that day, so I didn't set an alarm or anything. I was just sleeping and trying to get rested.

"Our phone in the hotel room rings at 12, and I assumed it was coach getting a wake-up call for all of us. I almost picked it up and put it right down."

It's a good thing Jankowski didn't.

On the other end was Flames assistant general manager Brad Pascall, who doubles as GM of the Stockton Heat.

"I knew he was sleeping," recalls Pascall, part of the Flames' hockey operations panel that helps determine who is next in line to board a flight to the big club.

"In fairness, I knew that his flight (out) was at 12:30 or something, so I waited an extra hour before I called him, just because I wanted him to get an extra hour's worth of sleep. Calling him, I knew he was sleeping, but I knew he was going to be top of the world."

Oh, he was.

"I just said 'hello' just in case," says Jankowski of that Nov. 26 call.

"I woke up real quick. 'Hey, Mr. Pascall.' He told me, 'We're calling you up.'

"I was probably still a little sleepy at that point, too. As soon as I heard it was Pascall I had a feeling it might be that call. It was a really special call.

So was the next one.

Jankowski, unsurprisingly, started dialing his parents.

"They were on the road in Florida, actually," he says.

"I called my mom, and I was hoping to get both of them on the phone but they were separate. My mom had left Florida early. My dad was still there. I wanted to tell them at the same time but I couldn't.

"I got ahold of my mom, and she kept saying, 'You're lying. You're lying. Don't mess with me, Mark.' I told her I was serious, and I was flying to Boston.

"It was just a crazy moment.

"I called my dad right after and told him. He was flying out later and changed his flight to go right to Boston and meet me there.

"All the sacrifices they made for me, for me to share with them it was really special." 

Of course, there were a few bumps in the road for Jankowski.

Stockton hadn't ventured far from California on their road trip.

Jankowski, packed for warmer weather, was ushered off to Boston.

In November.

"It's kind of funny," he remembers.

"We were on a small road trip in Tucson … Ontario to Tucson. We were all warm-weather. I had a couple shorts packed and a t-shirt. It's the end of November. I flew to Boston and it was really cold there, then after the road trip I flew back to Calgary.

"I was freezing. I didn't have any warm clothes.  

"As soon as I got back to Calgary, probably the first day, I went into a store and bought a jacket and a hat, I think, just the essentials. I could get away with the rest after that.

"I just needed that winter jacket and a toque."

Troy Brouwer was better equipped for his first NHL recall.

It was the weather that didn't cooperate.

Summoned to the Chicago Blackhawks from Norfolk in 2006, the now 32-year-old struggled to join the parent club.

But he made it. 

"It's a long story," Brouwer smiles. "It is actually a long story.

"Everyone always has their nightmare story. We were in the middle of a back-to-back with Hershey. We'd just played our game at home and I got the call up. The Blackhawks were playing in Denver. There was a big snowstorm through the Midwest. All the major airports were shut down, so I couldn't fly out of Norfolk's airport."

No wings?

How about wheels? 

"I didn't have a car at the time," Brouwer says. "One of the older guys, Steve Munn, had a pregnant wife and his dad was visiting in town. He gave me a ride to Washington, D.C., and I flew out of Dulles (International Airport) to fly into Denver.

"The flight was delayed.

"Anything that could go wrong was going wrong.

"I hadn't slept because I'm so excited. I don't want to miss my flight and I had a four-hour drive to D.C.

"My flight took off at about nine in the morning. Get in, get to the hotel right as they're doing the morning meeting because it was a back-to-back for them. I find out I'm in the lineup with Patrick Sharp and Petr Bondra as my linemates.

"I played a game and it was so much fun. I was so excited. I played my first shift, and then a powerplay shift, and then one more shift before the first timeout. Played 2:18. Then didn't see the ice again for the rest of the night.

"It was awesome. I wouldn't change it."

Somewhere along the way, and well before he hit the ice, Brouwer picked up the phone and called home.

 "I think my dad answered, because I usually talk to him after every game anyway," Brouwer says.

"I had my little Motorola flip-phone. I think my parents were still paying the bill for it. For what I remember, I was like, 'Dad, put it on speaker' and he knew something good was happening. 

"It was also probably about three weeks after, maybe a month after, I almost got sent down to the East Coast.  

"Then I was going the other way."

Kris Versteeg called home, too.  

Funny enough, it happened to be where he was heading.

"It was 2007," the Lethbridge native recounts of his call-up to the Blackhawks.

"I can't remember the exact date of my first game, but sometime in November, start of November. Al MacIsaac, he was the GM of Rockfort at the time and he called me.  

"I was on my way home after the game, and he told me I was going to be getting on a plane the next day and going to Calgary to play my first NHL game.

"Usually when the GM calls you're in trouble. At that time it was shock and excitement. I just got on the phone and called all my friends and family. Obviously I was going home to play my first NHL game so that was special."

The game was on Nov. 22 and he got the new two days before.

"I called my mom," Versteeg says.

"It was a house landline. I called her and called my dad after that and told him.

"I kind of went down the list."

That list morphed from a telephone chain to a ticket queue.

"At that time there was no question," Versteeg chuckled.

"They all went up. I know my grandparents, cousins, friends … I remember after the game I went up into the concourse and there was over 100 people … old coaches and everyone.

 "I still remember … I paid pretty much what I would've made.

"The first cheque went to tickets."

Rasmus Andersson managed to get his mom over from Sweden immediately after his first call, an emergency summons on March 10 - some eight months ago.

But he didn't play.

"I think I was in the car around 11 p.m.," Andersson starts. "It was 8 a.m. in Sweden.

"I think she started crying. I can't really remember. She gets really emotional.

"Really emotional. She was just so happy for me.

"I thought I was going to play. They told me I was 90 percent going to play.

"My mom did not want to miss my first game. Two hours later my mom booked a flight. Four hours later she was on it. She flew to Toronto, then Toronto to Winnipeg. I unfortunately didn't get to play, but I got to spend some time with my mom. I hadn't seen her in four, five months."

Andersson's recall couldn't have come on shorter notice.

Dougie Hamilton and Michael Stone had both been injured in a game against the Montreal Canadiens.

So, the phone rang while Andersson was working on some laundry.

"I legit put it in 10 minutes before Brad called me," Andersson laughs.

"I legit got a phone call saying, 'you're getting picked up in 20 minutes.'

"Oh." 

"I only had 15 pairs of underwear, and 12 was in the laundry. I had to pack everything in a bag and hang it up in the hotel room and catch a flight out at 8 a.m.

"I dried it at the airport. I had to sleep in a hotel room in San Francisco. I hung everything at the hotel and it dried during the night.

"I did a lot of ironing and stuff at the hotel room.

"It's one of those things you can't really control. You just have to pack a bag and leave. It was kind of funny. It's one of those things you can't really control."

Pascall remembers.

"I sure do," he says.

"I didn't know at the time, but when he got here I remember talking to him and he filled me in on everything. It's pretty funny. It was late at night. I know when he came in he had to dry it all out at the airport hotel and then take a morning flight.

"It was a good story."

They all seem to be.

"It's a special feeling," Andersson admits.

"Every player wants to play here, and not in the AHL. Once you get the phone call you want to do everything you possibly can to stay up here, just take advantage of every situation you get in … even if it's a practice.

"That's what I want to do and I was really excited when I got the phone call."

The man on the other end of those calls feels that.

"For sure you can," Pascall says. "Really exciting. You know they're waiting for a call-up to the big club. You feel the excitement for them. In my mind, it's light at the end of the tunnel. It's a ray of hope.

"Ultimately you know it's a thrill for the kid and something he's been working for all his life and all his hockey career. Just to be able to be the messenger of the good news…it's just as exciting for me or anybody that makes the call.

"When I get to make that call, it's exciting for me as I'm sure it is for that guy.

"It's a product of hard work."

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