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After a tremendous rookie campaign in Stockton, the forward is aiming to earn a spot in the Flames' lineup

by GEORGE JOHNSON @GJohnsonFlames /

Some tests, Mark Jankowski knows, can explore a young man's heart, x-ray his soul. 

That History of the Modern Middle East exam his senior year at Providence, as a for-instance.

"It was a requirement for my major,'' recalls the rangy centreman, involuntarily, almost imperceptibly recoiling at the memory. "And it was … tough. A tough class. History of the Modern Middle East. I mean, it even sounds tough.

"So I really had to focus, to buckle down, because I needed it to graduate.

"I remember the week leading up to writing it, I don't think I came out of my bedroom. Didn't get much sleep. I'm not sure I even ate.

"Just locked into my notes."

His current study habits are decidedly different. They involve every extra rep in the gym, each additional kilometre on the odometer while running, the pushing and prodding of his body to be bigger, faster, stronger, sharper.

An hour-long informal skate out at WinSport on Thursday alongside a mixture of hopefuls and seasoned campaigners is only the latest study time aimed at the 2012 first-round pick securing a spot on the Flames' 2017-18 opening night roster, Oct. 4th three hours north versus those dastardly Edmonton Oilers.

"Ever since I was drafted here, I've pushed hard in the summer because an important thing for me is getting bigger, stronger,'' he notes. "And I think I've done that."

"That's what makes it more rewarding. Putting in the work to get where you want.

"We did a lot of hill runs today. They weren't fun. But they're part of the process, part of the end goal.

"So bring 'em on."

As Jankowski embarked upon his initial season in the pro game last September after four years of collegiate hockey life in the Providence Friars' program, Flames' general manager Brad Treliving compared the upgrade in class and expectation to suddenly "working with no net."

Well, on his first try Jankowski - at 21st, the highest player ever selected out of a Canadian high school - managed to reach the other side of the wire safely, and in style.

The trick now is to successfully walk a tightrope at the highest altitude.

Partnered largely alongside abrasive Garnet Hathaway and shifty Andrew Mangiapane, he turned in a 27-goal, team-topping 57-point freshman AHL campaign, spearheading the Stockton's Heat's late charge out of the mists and into the playoffs.

One of the developmental league's top rookies a season ago, his aim, then, is to among the NHL's best freshmen this coming winter.

"Last year,'' Jankowski reflects, "was a good one for me. After I was sent down to Stockton, I had it in my mind that I wanted to start dominating games and as the year wore on I think I got closer and closer to doing it.

"Every shift I wanted to make an impact. Every time on the ice I wanted to affect the outcome, whether by scoring a goal, winning a big face-off or a quick stick in the D-zone."

With an appreciative nod to his increasing influence in California, on Nov. 28th the Flames summoned Jankowski for a fixture in Brooklyn against the New York Islanders, marking his big league debut.

A one-night stand, as things turned out, and only 10:18 of ice time, but the benefits, in terms of ambition, confidence and whetting competitive appetite, were invaluable.

"Getting that one game in,'' he acknowledges, "made quite an impression on me, as I'm sure it does on everybody in the same position.

"If anything, it just lit a fire in my gut to get back. Ever since I was sent back down, my focus has been on being in Calgary again, and staying.

"I think this is my time. I really have to seize the opportunity.

"This is a team I believe I can make and I plan on doing that."

As the September 14th opening of training camp nears, the study hours for buckling down in gyms and weight rooms, on treadmills and stair-masters, are dwindling.

Exam-time is in the offing.

Needless to add, a solid mark is required to graduate in a tough, tough class.

No different in its way, though, than that daunting History of the Modern Middle East course in Jankowski's senior year at college.

"Actually," he recalls proudly, brightening, "I got a pretty grade on that."

He plans on acing this one, too.

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