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Bennett rounding into form as guy who can do everything for the Flames

by GEORGE JOHNSON @GJohnsonFlames /

Sam he is.

Or is becoming.

More and more.

"What's different?" repeats Flames GM Brad Treliving to the question put to him. "Identify a greatest growth area in Sam Bennett?

"Well, I'd say in just being himself. In being more comfortable in his own skin.

"In realizing he can be a major player here, can have a real impact and that that impact is not solely statistically based.

"We expect him to produce offensively and he will, he does. But he gives us a certain different skill set that not a lot of guys possess. 

"There's an abrasiveness, a competitiveness, a hardness, to him that you can't just walk down to the corner store and find any day of the week."

The evolution of Sam Bennett into Sam Bennett, not someone else's idea of what Sam Bennett should be, is, naturally, ongoing.

But in this, his fourth full season in the Flaming C, the player he's capable of being is taking shape.

"Everyone,'' reckons Bennett, "wants to be the goal-scorer, produce all the points. I mean, who wouldn't want that?

"But especially when you're winning as a team, you realize there are things, important things, other than those kinds of stats that go into it.

"It takes time to kind of find your role. And that role can change over time. 

"Obviously, I'm not the same player I was when I came into the league. And I think through the course of my career I'm going to change again.

"It just kind of works itself out.'

Find yourself selected fourth overall in a given summer - as Bennett was in 2014 - and a waiting, watchful world is anticipating Carnavale in Rio, New Year's Eve in Times Square and Oktoberfest in Munich, all rolled into one eyeball-popping, glitz-glam, whiz-bang package.

"When you're drafted that high," says Treliving, "there all sorts of outside expectations that you're going to be a certain type player. Immediately. It's hard to find a niche, a slot, a home in the lineup, so to speak.

"People, as a matter of course, want you to come in and save the world, find a cure for the common cold. No pressure, right? So naturally you feel it's that or nothing.

"When, really, no. 

"Each succeeding year you realize that to win - the most important thing, never forget - a team needs all different kinds of contributions, people filling different roles.

"I think Sam is figuring that out: That he can have a major impact on the success of this team and it isn't predicated solely by goals, assists and points.

"Now, we want him to get those. And he will. But he's is going to be productive in a number of ways.

"And that's what we're so excited about with Sam.

"But a player, you learn that as you go."

Searching for down-the-road comparables, similar flight paths, in this town, left-winger Gary Roberts pops immediately to mind.
Roberts arrived as the 10th-overall pick in '84 enwrapped in hoopla, all edges and angles and raw materials. Over time, he developed into a 53-goal/207 PIM prototype power forward for an era.

"I see that," says Treliving of the stylistic likeness. "One hundred percent. And that's certainly a compliment to Sam. But when Gary was elite, remember, it was the old Wild West. Anything goes. The game's different today.

"Now you get a guy who's a double threat in that particular way, he's so valuable because they are far fewer guys like that: Players with that hard-edge element who have offensive ability."

As someone new to the scene, boss man Bill Peters certainly appreciates the various facets Bennett brings.

"Benny does all the stuff that's hard to do," says Peters. "Being F1 in there quick on the forecheck, making quick decisions with the puck on and off your stick, driving to the net, driving through the middle.

"All the stuff that matters that doesn't show up on score sheets are the toughest things for young guys to do, right?

"I've liked that line, with Benny, Janko and Nealer. Hard, heavy plays. Playoff-type plays.

"And the best part? There's a lot of room for him to expand, to get better."

The developing maturity of Sam Bennett since his arrival here hasn't been confined to the on-ice. A cancer diagnosis for his mom Diane two years ago hit home that real strength comes in different sizes, shapes and forms.

"It's eye-opening. Came out of nowhere, blindsided us," he says. "Pretty scary for awhile. You do learn to appreciate life more. All those things you thought were so important … turns out they're minor.

"I remember my parents sitting down and telling me. You get pretty emotional. It's just the not knowing … a tough day for sure.

"Thank God she's doing good now and that's behind us."

Everything Sam Bennett, personally and professionally, is trending upwards, it seems.

"He's a good teammate, well-liked, respected by the guys because he's willing to do things that are not comfortable," lauds assistant coach Martin Gelinas.

"He's on the powerplay, he's physical, he'll fight when he needs to. He's a guy who can change the momentum of a game with a big hit or by dropping the gloves.

"Right now, he's finding different ways to make it happen."

Case in point: Saturday morning at PPG Arena on the shores of the Allegheny. Taking umbrage with a hit on teammate Austin Czarnik, Bennett took off like Usain Bolt to let Pittsburgh D-man Marcus Petterson know of his displeasure. Later, on the blue paint, Bennett slotted home his 11th goal of the season, Calgary's fifth of the afternoon. It turned out to be the game-winner.

"I've felt good this year,"he acknowledges. "I think my game is growing. But sometimes I've just got to get back to playing free and not overthinking.

"The physical side of things … I'm always going to play way. I've always played that way, my whole life. I enjoy it.

"Whether I wind up scoring 30 goals a year or not. I think I'll always play with that chip on my shoulder.

"It's just who I am."

Sam he is.

More and more all the time.

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