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Pending Flames UFAs talk about desire to remain with club

by AARON VICKERS @aavickers /

There's no place like home.

Just ask Chad Johnson.

The Calgary native, slated to become an unrestricted free agent this summer, wants nothing more than the opportunity to return to tend twine for his hometown Flames.

"Absolutely," Johnson said during the team's end of season media availability Friday.

"It was fun to play here. The fans are great, as I know. My family enjoyed it and my wife enjoyed it. More importantly it was a great hockey team to be a part of, a great organization and one heading in the right direction.

"I want to be a part of that. There's always issues with contracts that have to be figured out and things like that, but my heart is here. There's no denying that.

"I'd love to remain here in Calgary."

Johnson, who went 18-15-1 with a 2.59 goals-against average and .910 save percentage in 36 games for Calgary in 2016-17, is one of two goaltenders and six pending unrestricted free agents to play for the Flames this season.

He, fellow goalie Brian Elliott, defencemen Dennis Wideman, Michael Stone and Deryk Engelland, and forward Kris Versteeg are all slated for free agency come July 1.

Lethbridge native Versteeg, like Johnson, is hoping to stay close to home.

"Being at home has been amazing,'' acknowledged Versteeg, who started the summer in Switzerland before joining the Edmonton Oilers on a try-out in training camp and opting to sign with the Flames in a whirlwind sequence of events.

"I can't properly put into words how much I've enjoyed this season. It's been so special. Just having everyone around - family, friends - has made me super comfortable. My kids being consistently around their grandparents, you can't put a value on that.

"It's made my, our, living situation so much better. I've been away for so long, in other cities, and I think everyone wonders what it'd be like to be able to play in his own backyard. The other places I've been through my career have all been great experiences.

"But you only have one home, right?

"So from a personal standpoint, I could not have asked for more.

"And this team? Like a band of brothers. Just fantastic."

Stone, who had six points in 19 skates with the Flames after being acquired in advance of the NHL Trade Deadline from the Arizona Coyotes, expressed a desire to return.

While Calgary isn't technically his hometown (he hails from Winnipeg), Stone did play his junior days with the Calgary Hitmen of the Western Hockey League. His wife, Michelle, was raised in the southeast community of Lake Bonavista.

"It's a great place for me and my family, and I think it's a good situation with the team," Stone said. "We're a good team. I would definitely enjoy being back.

"It was an easy transition just coming to a city that I was familiar with. It was easier on my family. I didn't have to deal with anything in that regard. I could really just focus on playing hockey. I think that always helps.

"I've really enjoyed my time here. The guys are awesome and it's going to be a good team. We've got some young players that are going to turn into some stars in this league. It's something that you should want to be a part of."

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