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SWITCHING ALLEGIANCE

'It's all because of them' - Flames draft pick Lucas Ciona shares incredible Zoom call with his parents, who have a new team to cheer for!

by RYAN DITTRICK @ryandittrick / CalgaryFlames.com

Three hours up on the QEII, the Ciona family household was once an Oilers hockey haven.

But that's the fun about draft day.

Things change in a hurry.

"Funny you say that," Lucas, only moments after hearing his name called, told Brendan Parker of Flames TV.

"My aunt and uncle live down in Calgary. My uncle's a big Flames fan and he's pretty pumped to see this happen. So, it's not TOTALLY out of the blue for our family to have a little Calgary in it.

"But now, it's definitely going to be a big Calgary household, I can tell you that."

It took five-and-a-half hours - "The most nerve-racking five-and-a-half hours of my life," Lucas' father, Curtis, hilariously confirmed - for Ciona to be selected by the Flames in the sixth round, 173rd overall.

Often, late-round picks become some of the draft's best stories. We were on hand in 2019 when Dustin Wolf was taken with the 214th pick - only four selections from the end.  

The scene was incredible.

With Wolf and his family on one side of Vancouver's Rogers Arena, and a good dozen or more Everett Silvertips fans decked out in the team's trademark green-and-gold colours on the other, the moment captured the attention of everyone on hand, including all 31 teams on the draft floor.

The cheers, tears and all.

It's what the draft is all about.

Times may have changed, with Zoom providing the platform for these initial encounters with team staff and the media, but this particular call was extraordinary.

It smashed the boundaries of this 'impersonal,' online vehicle, and brought us right inside the mind - and living room - of an entire family watching a lifelong dream unfold in real time.

"It's an unbelievable feeling," Ciona said. "I can't get the smile off my face - it's been going for the last 40 minutes here.

"It was a long day waiting up until this moment, but I'm so happy to (see) it happen. … It was a rollercoaster, that's for sure. But rollercoaster stops now.

"It's just going up and up."

 

Video: "I can't take the smile off my face right now"

 

In Ciona, the Flames get a big, powerful winger that goes to the net hard and loves to win battles in the trenches.

With the COVID-19 pandemic affecting more than our interview access, the Edmonton native played only 23 games this year with the Seattle Thunderbirds of the WHL.

But he certainly made them count.

The 6-foot-3, 210-lb. force 13 points (2G, 11) and 32 penalty minutes - and quickly getting the attention of the Flames' area scouts.

"When you the playoffs, you see those types of guys have lots of success," Flames Director of Amateur Scouting Tod Button said. "They create room for the smaller guys.

"And, he's got enough ability to score when it matters and into the hard areas."

"I'm always trying to drive the play and be physical," added Ciona. "I'm not afraid to take those cross-checks in front of the net or in the corner. Just using my body to get anywhere on the ice and produce. That's pretty much my game right there."

Ciona considers himself lucky that he was able to play any games at all, when other leagues - including the OHL - were shuttered entirely due to the pandemic.

Better yet, the lighter workload actually helped him work on a few things that high-level athletes just don't have the time for, normally.  

"Coming into the summer last year, I was probably sitting around 205," Ciona said. "Just having the ability to train and work out every day, and have skates all the way until February was pretty big for me. I gained a nice extra 10 pounds. It was nice for my development. It was a lot of ice time, a lot of time in the gym, lots of specifics. I could take my time with things. I was performing to the best of my abilities and exceeding that sometimes. Having that opportunity and that time was huge for me."

But for now, it's fair to say he's earned a few days off.

Skip the gym.

Celebrate.

Make memories with those you love most.

Because on draft day, it's much more than a solo feat. It's a family accomplishment, through and through.

"They've done everything for me, "Ciona said of his parents. "They got me to all my hockey practices, all my skates, all my workouts. They're the heart and soul for me and the reason I'm here in this moment. Without them, I wouldn't be anywhere. I'm so happy to have them as my parents and I love them so much.

"It's all because of them."

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