In life, there’s always parades and you choose whether you’re in the parade or you watch the parade. Tonight, it’s another situation. For all our youngsters, there’s unbelievable battles. - Bob Hartley
CALGARY, AB -- Don’t get caught watching.
That was coach Bob Hartley’s suggestion to those vying for an opportunity to start the season with the Calgary Flames heading into Thursday’s pre-season game against the Winnipeg jets.
“In life,” Hartley started, “there’s always parades and you choose whether you’re in the parade or you watch the parade. Tonight, it’s another situation. For all our youngsters, there’s unbelievable battles. Tomorrow there might be three new guys at practice, three veterans. It doesn’t get easier. It doesn’t get easier for no one, trust me.
“Even us, we’re sitting with (general manager) Brad (Treliving), we’re sitting with management with my partners and we’re trying to evaluate players. There’s going to be lots of long nights coming up.”
The Flames have just two games left in the exhibition series, a home-and-home with the Jets. With 33 remaining on the roster and the likes of Mikael Backlund, David Jones and Mason Raymond nearing a return, the time is now to make an impact.
Because as Hartley suggested, the numbers game is going to catch up with Calgary.
“There’s only two games remaining so we’re trimming down the roster but at the same time, there’s quite a few battles,” Hartley said. “The next cuts will be real tough. It’s just unbelievable how we were able in a short time to get some depth in the organization and it’s going to be tough. Today, Backs had a great practice. Mason Raymond, David Jones, there are chances we are going to see them at practice tomorrow morning with the group so we’re going the wrong way.
“Instead of getting lower in our numbers, we’re getting higher in our numbers. That’s a good problem. When you have your last cuts, they’re easy decisions, you know that it might be a long year.”
One of those players forcing tough decisions is 21-year-old Johnny Gaudreau.
The offensive spark-plug has been a standout through camp and though he has just one goal to his credit, the reigning Hobey Baker Award winner has generated equal parts creativity on the ice and buzz off it.
“I hope I can make the team and help create offence and help get the team up on the board with some goals there,” Gaudreau said. “But whether I’m playing a defensive role or an offensive role, just help the team win.”
BENNETT BACK IN
Sam Bennett, Calgary’s top pick (No. 4) in the 2014 NHL Draft, is also doing his best to make Calgary’s decision difficult. As Hartley suggested, the 18-year-old Bennett understands he’s running out of time to make his mark.
“I don’t think you can ever do enough,” Bennett said. “Definitely I need to really have two really strong games and I guess from there, it’s up to the management and the coaches. All I can control is how I play and how hard I work.”
Bennett’s had a rough start, though.
A groin injury sustained in the Young Stars Classic in Penticton forced him to miss the start of training camp. After making his Flames debut with a pair of pre-season games in a home-and-home series against the Vancouver Canucks, Bennett got banged up again.
But a return to the lineup and some momentum swinging his way has the Kingston Frontenacs standout hopeful.
“First few games, I thought I played pretty strong but I definitely feel there’s a lot more to my game that I can still bring,” said Bennett, who has recorded one assist. ”I’ve got two more chances to really show it so I’m going to try to do that tonight and the next game as well.”
ON THE MEND
Bennett isn’t the only Flames skater set to make a return. Defencemen Ladislav Smid (dental) and Deryk Engelland (undisclosed) will mark their return against the Jets on Thursday, as will Devin Setoguchi (undisclosed). As Hartley stated, Backlund, Jones and Raymond are close, too.
He’s especially relieved that Backlund, who has yet to skate with the main group in training camp, has taken a positive step forward.
“I’m delighted now,” Hartley said. “I sleep like a baby because he’s on the ice and he’s doing good. When you get a guy in the gym or the medical room, his injury seems to be stalled, it’s not getting better, it’s not moving forward you always get worried. Now, Backs got the okay from the medical staff. He feels better.
“This morning he was flying on the ice. It’s good. No more worries.”
Tuesday’s game against the Jets will be on SN960 (radio) starting at 7 p.m. MST. There is no television broadcast.