CALGARY, AB -- Coming out of last year’s training camp, Roman Horak surprised most after cracking the Calgary Flames opening day roster as a center at just 20 years of age.
Fifteen months later, Horak is hoping to accomplish the same feat again – with a twist.
With the National Hockey League ready to drop the puck once again, the Ceske Budejovice, Czech Republic product has his eyes set once again on making the cut, this time from the wing. Playing primarily on the left wing with the Abbotsford Heat of the American Hockey League this season, Horak has been brought into camp to compete for a slot on the side.
If it means increasing his odds of staying in Calgary for the home opener against the San Jose Sharks at Scotiabank Saddledome next Sunday, Horak said he’d be willing to play just about any position.
“At this point I’d just be happy to play no matter where, just play for the Calgary Flames team,” he said after Monday’s scrimmage.
But Horak admitted he’s having a bit of fun riding shotgun, too.
“I kind of like it,” he said. “It all depends who you’re playing with. If you have a great centerman it doesn’t really matter if you’re on the wing or not. The main difference probably is on the boards. You’ve got to make the passes a little quicker but I like it.”
Horak appears to have made the transition quickly.
After suiting up for 61 games at center for the Flames in 2011-12, he spent the start of this season with the Abbotsford Heat, Calgary’s American Hockey League affiliate. Scoring 10 goals in his first nine games to start the season, the six-foot, 185-pound forward his hoping once again to get out of the gate quickly in Calgary’s camp.
“Everyone’s aware you’ve got to go hard off the start right away,” said Horak, who has 14 goals and 19 points with the Heat this season. “It’s a small camp but everyone’s battling for a spot.”
Though he has the advantage of coming into camp having played 35 games in the AHL this season, the 21-year-old, Horak was the first to admit skating in camp, which neared 90 minutes on the second day after a marathon two-hour affair Sunday, has been a little more labor-intensive than he’s used to from Troy Ward’s midseason practice with the Heat.
“It’s different,” Horak said. “In Abbotsford, we’re in midseason so the practices can’t be that long. We play every second, third day. It’s way harder here. Guys here didn’t practice together here under Bob (Hartley) and now we’re trying to get the conditioning and the system so it’s pretty hard.”
It’s not just the lungs that Horak needs to worry about.
With Hartley trying to implement a system Horak hasn’t played under, the former fifth round pick in 2009 has to make sure his mind, not just his feet, is up to par.
“We’re still trying to get to know each other,” he said. “He seems like a very good guy. He’s really hard on young guys. I’m just going to try my best and hopefully make the lineup again.”
Until then, he’s willing to wing it.