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Flames first-round picks face-off

by Peter Zuurbier / Calgary Flames
As the Stanley Cup Finals grow closer, Flames fans were able to compensate for their disappointment in not still seeing their team playing by watching the 2009 Memorial Cup. The championship game Sunday couldn't have worked out better for the Flames, as the Windsor Sptifires and Kelowna Rockets both boast top Flames prospects.

The CHL champion Spitfires made history as the first team to win the Memorial Cup after playing in the tie-breaker game. The charge to claim the title of the best team in junior hockey was led in part by Greg Nemisz, who contributed seven points in the final tournament, tied for third on the team. Nemisz was the 25th overall draft pick by the Flames in the 2008 NHL Entry Draft.

The runner-up Kelowna Rockets feature two up and coming centres drafted by the Flames: Mikael Backlund and Ryley Grantham. Both went goalless in the final tournament but Backlund did tally four assists. Backlund was the 25th overall draft selection by the Flames in 2007, a year earlier than Nemisz. Grantham was selected 168th overall in the 6th round.

Niemsz got the best of one of his potential future teammates only 3:22 into the contest, when he stripped the puck off of Backlund, and found Adam Henrique in the slot for the first goal of the day. The Spitfires overwhelmed the Rockets throughout the game, scoring on their first three shots and eventually winning 4-1.

For Nemisz the elation of winning the championship will be temporary, as his training schedule runs year-round as he prepares to one day play in the NHL.

“It starts with fitness,” said Nemisz. “In the summer, you really buckle down and try to get bigger, faster, and stronger every year.”

Both Nemisz and Backlund had strong seasons playing junior hockey, getting progressively better as they gained experience. When camp breaks for the Flames 2009/10 season in September both players are likely to be given a long look by the Flames hockey staff.

Whether Nemisz or Backlund make the team is another question but they have shown they can hold their own at the junior level and continued strong play can only accelerate their move to the professional ranks.

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