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Former Hitman Michael Stone's return to Calgary to join defensive unit seems ideal fit

by GEORGE JOHNSON @georgejohnsonCH /

As fits go, this is anything but standard-issue/off-the-rack.

Nope, the tailoring is strictly made-to-measure.

Personally and professionally.

Returning to a home-away-from-home city you've come to know so well. Joining an organization searching for a depth upgrade at your job description, one embroiled in a playoff tussle.

What's not to be amped about?

"I am kinda in scramble mode right now,'' apologizes Michael Stone, the newest Calgary Flame, throwing things in a suitcase and getting travel itineraries finalized for a rushed departure to Nashville.

"It's all happened pretty fast.

"Obviously when you don't have a contract for the upcoming season you're in limbo a little bit.

"I'd heard things.

"So I knew this was a possibility, let's leave it at that."

On the heels of the Matt Bartkowski signing a few days ago, adding Stone, now 26 and in his seventh year pro, continued the stockpiling of defencemen by the Flames.

The cost was Calgary's third-round pick in 2017 and a conditional fifth-round selection a year later.

"Obviously, I know Stoney real well,'' says the broker of the deal, GM Brad Treliving, a part of the management crew that brought the 6-foot-3, 200-pounder to the Arizona desert in the first place.

"Mike's a big defenceman, can move a puck, has a great shot, and he's a right-handed shot.

"Mike had a tough end to last season, needed knee surgery and those are hard to come back from. So his year's probably been a little up and down.

"But I think he's going to give us some stability.

"This is a player who can do a lot of things. Because of his shot he can give you secondary powerplay time, kill penalties, play 5-on-5.

He's projected by more than a few GM-wannabes to slot in as a top-4 along the Calgary blueline.

"He's got the ability to play minutes,'' replies Treliving. "In Phoenix he played with (Oliver) Ekman-Larsson, he played with (Keith Yandle). He can withstand 20-plus minutes a night.

"How, where and with whom, those are things the coaches will burn the midnight oil on.

"We just want him to come in and fit in. I told him: 'You're not here to save us. You're here to join what I think will be a good defensive group.'"

Video: Brad Treliving discusses Michael Stone deal

Drafted in the third round by the-then Phoenix Coyotes in 2010, Stone of course spent four winters prepping for a pro career down the hall at the Scotiabank Saddledome as a Calgary Hitmen mainstay, reaching a Memorial Cup with them in the spring of 2010.

The local ties don't end there.

His wife Michelle hails from the southeast community of Lake Bonavista. Her family still lives in the southeast, meaning Stone - a Winnipegger - spends a good chunk of his off-season time here.

While his old team, the Coyotes, are a full 15 points adrift of one of the available post-season spots in the Western Conference, Stone finds himself joining a group on a single-minded mission to reach the post-season.

From playing out the string to everything to play for.

"I haven't been in that kind of position for some time,'' he admitted. "Not since I played there in junior. That run we had with the Hitmen was so much fun. We had to go Game 7 in the first round, not what we'd projected but getting through that and going all the way to the Memorial Cup, such a great time to be a junior hockey player in that city, a city that loves its hockey.

"Any time you have the opportunity to push for a playoff spot and play meaningful games, that's what you want. That's why you play.

"I don't have that sort of experience on the professional level.

"It's gonna be a welcome change.

"I'm gonna come in there and make good first passes out of the zone, play firm in the defensive end and just kinda get back to the consistency level I know I'm capable of."

Precisely what Brad Treliving is hoping for.

"This,'' said the GM, "is the first time Mike's ever been traded and he's been in Phoenix a long time so there's always an initial shock.

"But we're right in the middle of race and I think that's really going to energize him. 

"These are competitive guys. Any time you're coming into the time of year where the games are tight, meaningful, everything's on the line, it brings out the best in people.

"And, you're right, this isn't foreign land to him. He's coming back to a place he knows well.

On first glance, an ideal marriage of professional opportunity and personal familiarity.

As fits go, strictly made-to-measure.

"As I said, I knew something might happen,'' acknowledged Stone. "But for the destination to wind up being Calgary … it's going to be an over-all good fit for myself and my family.

"I've really enjoyed my time there. I have some really good memories of Calgary.

"And I hope to add some more."


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