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REASON TO SMILE

Lazar has high hopes for next season

by AARON VICKERS @aavickers / calgaryflames.com

Unusual it is, to see such a beaming grin on a day so dampened.

The Flames ousted.

Final exit meetings and media availability underway.

A garbage bag over the shoulder and gone for the summer.

But Friday's final gathering gave Curtis Lazar plenty of optimism moving forward.

"We obviously would've liked a better result," started Lazar, still lamenting a sweep in the Western Conference first-round at the hands of the Anaheim Ducks, but still unable to park his trademark smile.

"It was a lot of fun, getting to experience the playoff atmosphere here in Calgary for the first time. It was a lot of fun. It makes you hungry for that opportunity again next season. For myself, it's all about trying to get settled here. I got five games with the Flames.

"I'm already looking forward to next season."

Yes. Next season.

Because it's all the 22-year-old has been building towards since he was acquired by Calgary at the NHL Trade Deadline on March 1.

The day, not surprisingly, is still a blur.

What's not forgotten is the smiles brought on by the change in address.

"A huge weight was lifted off my shoulders, I guess," Lazar said. "I felt free again.

"I felt I had an opportunity to re-write my script as a professional hockey player.

"It feels like I've been in the league for 10 years or so, but I'm a 22-year-old kid with a big opportunity to be an impact player on a young team with a great core of guys. I want to seize that opportunity. I know I have it in me. There's a big belief in myself from the coaching staff, management…I feel teammates have my back and support me all the time.  

"It's a matter of hitting my stride and getting into more and more games and go from there."

Lazar had just four regular-season skates and drew into the lineup for Game 4's elimination, but it's all about the long-term for the Salmon Arm, B.C., native.

"100 percent," Lazar said. "I got off to a dreadful stuff there with being sick and everything and I just couldn't get my feet underneath me in Ottawa. I really looked at the opportunity I had here in Calgary. They gave me a chance and saved my season.  

"For myself, it was about trying to be strong mentally and have the patience and the poise. I am a good hockey player.

"I know the impact I'm going to have down the road.  

"You just show up at the rink every day, try to get better and I'm very happy with the way I handled things with how everything ended."

Lazar's regular-season line will read as follows:

One assist and a minus-10 rating in 33 games with the Senators.

One goal and three points in four games.

 "It's definitely interesting," said Lazar, who was originally selected in the first round (No. 17) in the 2013 NHL Draft. "It's a small body of work here in Calgary but I'm just trying to set myself up for next year. I want to be an impact player on this team and I know I have it in me. I thought I did a very good job in the games that I got in and being able to prove that I am an NHL player and I have a lot in me. That's pretty much it.

"To come into a new system with a team, new linemates and just for it to happen it was a big relief for myself to get back to having fun again. My enthusiasm and smile and how joyful I am, that goes a long way for the way that I play. I could see that confidence and swagger coming back."

"I'm excited for that puck to drop next October.

"I have a lot to prove for myself and I have a great opportunity in front of me."

He's already got a head start on that.

One he doesn't take for granted. 

"It's huge," said Lazar, now a veteran of 180 NHL games. "You kind of get the inside look, the internal look. I know what they want to see in players. It all starts with the work ethic. That was something I was able to show within the practices and games I got. It's trying to adapt.

"It was almost a blessing in disguise with how my season went easing my way into the lineup and only playing a few games and understand the ins and outs of what it takes to be a Calgary Flame.

"Next year I'm going to take off.

"I'm really going to take it upon myself to grow and help this team win."

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