VANCOUVER, BC -- It’s a second chance at making a first impression. And for Blair Riley, it’ll come 24 hours after one of the more bizarre twists you’ll see in this year’s pre-season.
The 29-year-old Riley, a free agent invite to Calgary Flames camp after inking an American Hockey League pact with the Stockton Heat, made his exhibition debut Friday against the Vancouver Canucks.
But in the eyes of the National Hockey League, it didn’t exactly happen.
“It was a bit of a weird one last night,” Riley said. “Obviously I was only expecting to take warm-ups in the first place so to get out there was a pretty odd series of events.”
Trying to make another type of impression -- this time on the head of Brandon Prust -- Riley was ushered off to the penalty box to sit five minutes following a spirited bout with the Canucks forward.
He didn’t serve the full five, though.
Pulled from the penalty box and ushered off the ice in a bout of confusion, Riley was tossed from the game after officials realized he wasn’t listed on the NHL game sheet, and immediately deemed him ineligible for the contest.
“I saw the ref coming over from a little ways away, he was kind of pointing at me in the box,” recalled Riley, whose family tuned into the game five minutes too late to catch the Flames hopeful. “I didn’t think I had done anything wrong. My tie-down was done up in the fight. Then he opened up the door and said I wasn’t on the sheet, I got to go. I didn’t believe him at first. I said, ‘Well just put me on the sheet then.’ It’s a little late now. Then he kicked me out and that was it. I didn’t even take a shower I just threw my suit back on.”
The ejection ended his night after 16 seconds of work, an outing for Riley that hasn’t officially been noted on the game’s boxscore.
Flames coach Bob Hartley took full responsibility for the mix-up following the 4-1 win at Scotiabank Saddledome.
“I screwed up. It’s totally my fault,” he said. “I always prepare my game sheet in the afternoon and then we decided to make a change. I made my change on my card, but I did not make my change on the NHL sheet. It was totally my fault.”
Hartley admitted he owed Riley another opportunity Saturday.
“I told him right after the game last night,” he said from Vancouver. “It’s a mistake on my part. You have to own up to it and he’s a great kid. He’s worked very hard. That’s why he’s going to be in tonight’s lineup.”
Riley was understanding.
“Obviously those things happen, it was just a bizarre thing,” he said. “He apologized to me for it but he didn’t need to do that, he didn’t owe me an apology so that was nice of him to do that. I’m thankful he’s giving me another shot in the lineup tonight.”
A bonus shot, perhaps?
“Just getting invited to training camp was a bonus so every day that I’m here I’m thankful for it and trying to make the most of it,” Riley said. “To get a game here in Vancouver where I grew up watching the team is exciting for me, especially after the way things went last night. It’s pretty neat to get another shot.”
ON THE LINE
Tyler Wotherspoon knows what’s on the line for him in Vancouver.
The 22-year-old senses an opportunity on Calgary’s blue line with the absence of TJ Brodie for 3-to-6 weeks with a broken bone in his hand, and Ladislav Smid still sidelined from neck surgery performed last January.
The fifth of eight pre-season games, and the third in three nights, is critical moving forward.
“Stuff like that happens all the time and it’s a tough sport in those situations,” said Wotherspoon, who had 22 assists and 24 points for the Adirondack Flames last season, Calgary’s AHL affiliate. “In organizations like this and every organization you’ve got to have depth. Hopefully I can fill that role and step in where he’s missed and do my part and help the team win.”
The further along he goes, the better the chances Wotherspoon has of that.
“It’s that much closer to the regular season and the goal is to make it there,” he said. “It’s inching closer and closer and it’s exciting.”
It becomes more nerve-wracking, too.
Hartley suggested youngsters, like Wotherspoon, need to make a strong impact in Saturday’s game against the Canucks with cuts looming.
“Obviously it’s not his first camp so he knows what’s expected,” Hartley said. “Every young player, they know what tonight’s game means to them because tomorrow we’re going to be making some cuts. On Monday, we plan to be close to one group, so tonight’s game is basically make-it or break-it. Then, the evaluation process will go on for the final games.
“Tonight is a good one for many of them.”
CANUCKS PROJECTED LINEUP
FORWARDS: Alex Burrows, Radim Vrbata, Daniel Sedin, Adam Cracknell, Henrik Sedin, Jannik Hansen, Nicklas Jensen, Brendan Gaunce, Jared McCann, Cole Cassels, Bo Horvat, Alex Friesen, Alex Grenier.
DEFENCEMEN: Dan hamhuis, Chris Tanev, Alex Edler, Frank Corrado, Matt Bartkowski, Alex Biega, Ben Hutton.
GOALIES: Ryan Miller, Joe Cannata.
“Actually they missed the game. They tuned into it about five minutes after it started so they missed it. I caught up with them after, some friends were watching the game in a bar in Kamloops so they had watched a bit. Some people thought I might have been injured, they thought it might have been concussion protocol. Once they heard that I was alright and it was just a mix-up they thought it was pretty funny but they were a little upset because they were hoping to watch a little more. They’ll get another shot tonight.”
-Blair Riley on family missing his 16 seconds of action in Friday’s game.
Saturday’s pre-season game will be broadcast on Sportsnet West (TV) and Sportsnet 960 The Fan (radio). @NHLFlames will also be live-tweeting the game.