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OPPORTUNITY ABOUNDS

After a terrific start to the season in Stockton, Mark Jankowski has earned himself a shot with the Flames

by GEORGE JOHNSON @GJohnsonFlames / CalgaryFlames.com

No lower-lip dragging petulantly on the pavement. No plaintive 'Why me?'ing or valuable-time-wasting, self-indulgent soul-searching about the cruel injustices of this world.

When informed he'd been sent down to the AHL after an eye-catching camp here in Calgary, Mark Jankowski didn't tear up.

Instead, he's torn it up.

Five goals, eight points and a tidy plus-8 in the early going for the Stockton Heat.

"If you feel sorry for yourself, you just get in your own head, not in a good way, and wind up doing yourself way more harm than good,'' reasons the 23-year-old centre, summoned by the Flames in time for Monday morning's pre-charter-flight practice at the Scotiabank Saddledome.

"Obviously I was frustrated when it happened because I thought I'd had a good camp.

"But my goal as soon as I found out I was being sent down was to work on what they told me to and do everything I possibly could to be back up top as soon as possible.

"That was the only thing on my mind."

Looking every bit NHL-ready throughout his second big-boy camp, Jankowski always figured to be the first call-up from the farm, whenever, for whatever reason.

Video: VAN@CGY: Jankowski rips a wrist shot in off the post

Well, a lower-body injury sustained by Jaromir Jagr early during Saturday's loss to the Minnesota Wild has pried the door open in no time flat.

"That's part of it, right?'' says Flames' GM Brad Treliving. "That's what you're supposed to do: Go down and play well. Some guys don't, they're maybe feeling a little sorry for themselves, then they stay down for a while and wonder why.

"An opportunity has opened up and by his play during camp and the start of the season (in Stockton), his number gets called.

"It's a good lesson to everybody that this is how you do it."

Jankowski's done it in style, partnering with AHL co-scoring leader Andrew Mangiapane and the rough-and-tumble Garnet Hathaway to form the AHL's most potent line.

"We were together a lot at the end of last season so we had that chemistry right off the bat and we got off to a fast start. Both of them get in the forecheck, hound pucks and can make plays.

"So it's a lot of fun playing with those guys.'"

The identities of Jankowski's new Calgary linemates, where he's best to slot in, will naturally be the talk of Flames fandom. Second line? Third line? Or fourth? Centre? Wing? PK or second-unit PP? Here, there or everywhere?

"Wherever they want me, wherever they need me,'' reckons Jankowski. "I can adapt. I'm just excited for the chance. At training camp it was pretty much all centre but in college my first year was spent pretty much on the wing. So I feel comfortable at all three forward positions.

"I felt really confident as the camp went on, got better and better, to the point where I thought I could make an impact.

"Now I have to trust my game. 

"This is the best league, these are the best players, in the world. The 200-foot game is so important.

"You make one mistake and it's usually in the back of your net. So I've really tried focusing on that - my two-way game - while I was here."

Understandably, Treliving is loathe to heap too much expectation on Jankowski, particularly in the throes of a poor patch of results the last two games.

Pre-season, he's quick to point out, is indisputably valuable and informative but still, cutting to the chase, only dress-rehearsal. The regular season represents the curtain going up on Broadway 82 nights a year.

"For me, let's pump the brakes a bit here,'' Treliving cautioned. "Everybody's excited - and it's not that we're not excited - but this is a young man with one real NHL game under his belt.

"The expectation that he's going to show up and walk on water is ludicrous. They have a good day, a good week or a couple good games and everybody's saying: 'It's time!'

"Part of it is in Calgary we've seen players jump right into the NHL out of junior or college in the past. That's not the norm. Usually they have to go to the American league and learn the craft.

"So he's just got to come up and play the way he did in camp. It's going to be different. Different pace, different lineups to play against. But he's earned the opportunity to jump in."

Down at the 'Dome this morning, all eyes will be on Jankowski. He'll be issued a sweater, helmet and Flames apparel, not a flowing white beard, sandals, staff, and a set of tablets bearing 10 commandments.

"We all just have to take a deep breath and give him a little time,'' says Treliving.

"He's got a really good attitude. He's driven. Talented. Mature, at 23, after four years at school and one year pro. He does 'get it.'

"But he just has to help us.

"He doesn't have to save us."

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