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Right-shooting Czarnik learning ins and outs of playing left side

by RYAN DITTRICK @ryandittrick /

Like Jerry Seinfeld encouraging his buddy George Costanza to try "the opposite" of "every instinct" he's ever had, Flames forward Austin Czarnik is now doing the same.

"This is the first year that I've played the left side at all," Czarnik, a right-shot winger, said following Wednesday's morning skate at the Scotiabank Saddledome. "Four years of college, four years pro - never done it before.

"It's just different, you know? You're looking over your right shoulder instead of your left, so all those natural, reaction-type movements you might normally make, you kind of have to train yourself to do it differently.

"It's the opposite, really."

Czarnik is back on the scroll tonight as the Flames host the Philadelphia Flyers after missing Sunday's Battle of Alberta as a healthy scratch, and will line up on Alan Quine's left flank, opposite fellow right-shooter Garnet Hathaway on the fourth line.

As Jerry said: "This is your chance."

"My name is George. I'm unemployed and I live with my parents."

In all, Czarnik has appeared in only 19 of the Flames' 31 tilts, but has had some strong efforts in the ones he has played, and recently broke out of a 16-game goal-scoring slump with a beautiful, individual effort two games ago against the Columbus Blue Jackets.

He admits it isn't easy bouncing in and out of the rotation, but has maintained a positive attitude throughout, understanding the Flames have excellent depth and young players with differing skill-sets pushing for playing time.

"You have to realize that it's a game where scratches are going to happen," Czarnik said. "There are so many moving parts - matchups, injuries, call-ups - that in this league right now, you just have to be ready when your name is called upon.

"Whether you're in the lineup or you're not, those are the things that I can control. I've just been making sure that I have a good habits, I'm being a good teammate, and that my practices habits are good, so when it's my turn to go out there, I'm able to do what I do best and make a positive impact on the game."

Head coach Bill Peters acknowledges the left side "isn't ideal" from his perspective, but says there's nothing nefarious about the decision to put him there.

Ultimately, he wants 5-foot-9, 170 lb. Czarnik to play, no matter what position is available, depending on the matchup.

"That's the spot we have open for him right now," Peters reveals. "Some of 'Z' coming out is just us looking at different things. We felt we needed some energy when we put (Ryan Lomberg) in (Dec. 6). … Lombo came in that one night, played seven minutes and had seven hits.

"Some nights it has nothing to do with the player.

"It's got lots to do with the matchup and the opponent."

Knowing that, Czarnik - who celebrates his 26th birthday today - is trying to become a nightly option for the coaching staff by developing his talents on the opposite wing.

It's a challenge, he says, but it's a task made easier with additional reps.

"It's a little different with the wall play, rims and stuff like that, but I haven't minded it so far," he said. "I don't think there have been any big mess-ups for me, which is a good thing when you're learning something at this level.

"I think just being able to get across and be a slash option on breakouts is important for me, and those are probably the biggest differences you notice on the opposite side.

"Get going with speed and make plays when they're there.

"That's what I need to do to be most effective."

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