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PUT ME IN COACH

Peters says d-man Stone will play on this road trip and veteran couldn't be happier to return to the lineup

by GEORGE JOHNSON @GJohnsonFlames / CalgaryFlames.com

As a word, blasé is blissfully, mercifully absent from Michael Stone's personal dictionary. 

As a mindset, it's nowhere to be found in his attitude towards the game, all that it means and has brought him.

"It's a privilege to play in this league,"  the 29-year-old, 439-game, mind-the-store defenceman is saying Wednesday morning. "How many kids grow up wanting to play in the NHL and don't get that opportunity? 

"So to be there and have to sit and watch for - what was it? - 80 percent of the season … that wasn't fun for me.

"So regular-season hockey would be very welcomed by me."

Off a 10:30 a.m. pre-charter workout at the Scotiabank Saddledome, Stone's seasonal debut seemed to be very much in the cards.

Last year's travails, specifically that scary blood clot issue necessitating a protracted stay on injured reserve, beginning Nov. 21, tested the nine-year pro's patience and resolve as never before.

And not that it needed re-igniting, the lengthy layoff only further drove home how much games, even early regular-season games on, say, Oct. 10, really do mean.

A return to active duty March 16 by Stone in his hometown of Winnipeg, followed by two further regular-season starts and then a press-box perch for the Flames first-round playoff series.

Then the buying out of his contract in April and re-signing in early September.

So if you're waiting for Stone to begin taking anything for granted, well, better pack a lunch. A remainder-of-a-lifetime's worth of 'em, as a matter of fact.

"I think you do get into a routine,'' he acknowledges. "For sure. But when it's taken away from you you get a better appreciation for it."

During practice Wednesday, Stone found himself stationed alongside a former sidekick, T.J. Brodie, with Rasmus Andersson alongside minutes-munching Mark Giordano.

"We put the pairs together as if he's going to play,'' says coach Bill Peters when asked about Stone. "If he plays in Dallas, he does. If he doesn't, he plays on the road trip at some point. We wanted to practice them together, as leftie-rightie, all three pairs, and we did that today.

"He's healthy, right? He had a tough year last year with health issues and got behind the 8-ball because of that. He's had a real good summer in preparation, worked hard.

"He's a real good pro. There's a chance he would play tomorrow and if not on one of the back-to-backs."

 

Video: "It's a privilege to play in this league"

 

The locals, of course, will be trying to secure a second seasonal victory after a rally died in OT Tuesday against the L.A. Kings, with travel dates scheduled in Dallas, Las Vegas and San Jose. 

"I'm looking forward to playing,'' says Peters. "Doesn't matter where right now. We've gotta play, we gotta find our game, we gotta find some rhythm, some continuity, some lines that work.

"We need to be able to roll four lines and we haven't been able to do that yet. Hopefully this road trip accomplishes that."

The understanding Stone and Brodie have developed over their previous on-ice collaborations together can only help someone playing only his fourth regular-season game in nearly 10 months.

"I'm familiar playing with Brodes,'' says Stone. "So there's a comfort level there. I know how good of a player he is. I just look to complement him as best I can.

"He's a dynamic player. I've watched him a lot. You see the little things he does that some people might not notice. How good he is with plays with the puck; how effortless it looks a lot of the time.

"That's something you can appreciate."

As is the promise of real, live, in-the-moment game action when it matters. 

"I'd like to get things going,'' Stone acknowledges. "I missed a lot of time last year so whenever that opportunity comes I'm ready.

"I know what it means to play in the NHL.

"And I know I wouldn't want to be doing anything else."

 

Video: "We have to find some rhythm, some continuity"

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