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PTO has Higgins eager to show worth

by Aaron Vickers / Calgary Flames

CALGARY, AB -- Chris Higgins is coming to training camp without a contract.

But joining the Calgary Flames on a professional try-out makes no difference to the 33-year-old.

“I’m approaching this camp like I do any other, contract or not,” said Higgins, who has 165 goals and 333 points in 711 career NHL games over parts of 12 seasons with the Vancouver Canucks, Florida Panthers, Flames, New York Rangers and Montreal Canadiens.

“I’ve always seen training camp as a tryout. It doesn’t matter if you’re signed. You have to prove how good you are and how much you want to play on the team and how much impact you want to have on the game. I come with the mindset of making the team.”

Higgins will try to prove his worth again after a trying 2015-16 campaign.

Amidst his least productive NHL season, Higgins was placed on waivers in January and went unclaimed before being ushered to the Utica Comets of the American Hockey League. He returned to Vancouver for the final eight games of the regular season, and had the final season of his four-year contract bought out in June.

“I don’t hold any grudges,” said Higgins, who spent the past six seasons with Vancouver, amassing 62 goals and 80 assists for 142 points in 314 games.

“I didn’t play well. Maybe I didn’t see going down to the minors as an option, but it’ll be a funny story to laugh at in a couple years, with a lot of parts in my career. I think everybody knows how I feel about Vancouver. I plan on spending a lot of time here when I retire. I love the city and the people here. Vancouver will always be in my future. There’s no bitterness whatsoever.”

Higgins is hoping a second stint with the Flames can help revitalize his career. He was traded to Calgary in 2009-10 and had two goals and an assist in 12 games.

The Smithtown, NY native will have some extra comfort in returning to the Flames, too.

He’ll recognize forwards Hunter Shinkaruk and Linden Vey, who were parts of the Canucks organization. Higgins and Shinkaruk were teammates, briefly, in the minors.

But Higgins’ biggest comfort will come in Calgary coach Glen Gulutzan, who was an assistant in Vancouver for the past three seasons before being hired by the Flames in June. Paul Jerrard, Gulutzan’s assistant coach, was also an assistant with Utica last season.

“It certainly makes things more comfortable,” Higgins said. “I have a personal relationship with both of them. I have a lot of respect for them and the way they go about their jobs. In that respect, I know what they expect from their players. I think I still have to play the game and do my part and show how hungry I am to make the team.

“That’s what I plan to do.”

The veteran also plans on showing Gulutzan and the Flames that he’s got plenty to offer.

“I think playing as long as I have with that work ethic is something I pride myself on,” Higgins said. “At the same time, you’ve played a long time and you have a lot of experience. You can learn to deal with highs and lows of the game. There are lots of them over an 82-game season.

“More specifically with the team, they finished dead last on the penalty kill. I’ve always prided myself on the penalty kill and being that go-to player on that. The team finished 30th in the league and it doesn’t seem like there’s a lot of turnover on their roster. I think I can help quite a bit in that area.”

If he does, Higgins could see a 13th season in the League.

It’s his goal.

Whether he enters camp with a contract or not.

“You can use it as motivation,” he said. “My motivation is to play in the NHL and be a part of the team. I’m coming to camp to make the team.”

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