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Youngster's amped-up play in post-season turned a lot of heads

by GEORGE JOHNSON @GJohnsonFlames /

In barbering, banking or bee-keeping, hearing yourself described as "a snarly SOB" by the boss isn't usually considered the quickest path to career advancement.

In Sam Bennett's particular line of work, however, a higher compliment can be paid no employee.

Embracing the turmoil, warming to the tumult, revelling in the inherent nastiness of the time of year, the 20-year-old centreman shone.

An exasperating end for the Flames, to be sure, but in terms of futures investing, Bennett's give-no-quarter turn through those four painfully-close games versus the Anaheim Ducks appears destined to pay handsome dividends.

The Doug Gilmour disciple seems, like his junior general manager at Kingston, ideally suited for the scrap-metal mindset of springtime.

"They're exciting,'' said Bennett of post-season. "A lot of fun. Hard-fought battles. Real competitive hockey.

"It's why you play the game.

"I enjoy it."

That showed.     

Strong performances down the home stretch of the regular campaign segued seamlessly into the Anaheim series.

If No. 93 wasn't embedding this city's selection for Mr. Congeniality, Kevin Bieksa, into the woodwork at the one end of the rink, he was scoring twice or savouring additional responsibility doled his way by head coach Glen Gulutzan.

During his playoff baptism of 2015, Bennett showed undeniable promise - three goals and a helper through 11 games.

This go-round, in a far smaller sample size and a larger role, he upped the ante.

"It still stings,'' Bennett sighed of the recent ouster. "A lot. I think we played some pretty good games, a couple of them could've gone either way. It's just really disappointing."

"This team … I thought it was going to be something special.

"I think we underachieved."

One of the real positives gleaned from the tussle is the degree of confidence a sampling of the Flames' brightest young lights - Bennett, Sean Monahan and Micheal Ferland, in particular - strode into the playoff spotlight and took centre stage. As if they'd been born to it.

"Sam Bennett,'' said GM Brad Treliving, "had a real impact on the series. At the hardest time of the year. You look at that Anaheim team down the middle of the ice, pick your poision. He was playing against Kesler a lot.

"To me, he set the tone for us.

"He was a snarly SOB to play against. He has no problem with that type of game, on the road, in a hostile setting.

"To me that's a big step. It's a real building block for him."

Referring to Bennett and four-goal man Monahan - quite likely Calgary's top two forwards - Treliving paid the highest compliment:

"They were comfortable. It wasn't too much for them."

The culture the general manager is adamant on establishing here is of a group built from within that expects playoff participation as an annual repast, not an occasional hors d'oeuvre.

If the post-season is, as often, a polygraph on competitive fortitude, then Sam Bennett passed with flying colours.

"You hear it all the time, there's no space, no room,'' lauded Treliving. "He had tons of push-back, could play in those hard areas, could play in the tight games.

"It didn't go the way we wanted but Sam did his part."


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