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PARTY INVITES

Here on PTOs, Tobi Rieder and Devante Smith-Pelly have eyes on redemption as battle at forward heats up

by RYAN DITTRICK @ryandittrick / CalgaryFlames.com

Motivation comes in many forms.

Fear, power and the pursuit of excellence are all drivers.

But for many, it derives from the ultimate influence: Redemption.

When a tough day becomes a tough week, month, or in Tobi Rieder's case - a regrettable, year-long slog - all you want is another shot to make amends and prove to the doubters how wrong they were.

 

Video: "We expect a lot out of ourselves"

 

"I've never been more motivated than I am right now," Rieder said as Flames Training Camp kicked off with medicals and fitness testing Thursday at WinSport.

"Last year," he adds, pausing a beat, "wasn't what I envisioned.

"Or what anybody envisioned.

"But I'm a big believer that going through things like that builds character. Makes you stronger.

"Maybe you need to convince others to believe in you, but I certainly believe in myself. I'm glad it worked out and I'm here with the Flames now.

"I can't wait to get going."

Rieder is one of six players attending Main Camp on a Professional Try-Out (PTO), joining fellow forwards Devante Smith-Pelly, Zac Rinaldo and Alexandre Grenier, along with blueliners Andrew MacDonald and Eric Gryba.

His one and only, ill-fated campaign with the Edmonton Oilers last year is well documented. He went the entire season without scoring a goal after bagging 13, 14, 16 and 12 in the prior four years in Arizona and L.A., before returning to the team that drafted him in the first place.

It was a tough campaign made worse by a quiet off-season waiting by the phone - hoping it would ring, as he turned his attention to the gym and re-gaining his dependable, top-nine stature.

"It's tough after a season like that to enjoy your summer," Rieder said, "but I tried to work hard and stick to my regular routine, regardless of what was or wasn't in line for the fall."

Rieder had a couple of choices in front of him: Believe the nay-sayers and wallow in self-doubt, or press on, leaving an altogether grim season where it belongs - in the past - and get back on the right track, with the right frame of mind.

"One choice, really," Rieder corrects. "That's the way I approach it:

"Never give up."

Rieder isn't sure where the story goes next.

He's just thankful for the opportunity.

"I've got to get back to beating defencemen wide and crashing the net, bringing everything to the net," said the winger who, despite the barren output last year, has a career 7.4% shooting percentage.

"That's what gave me success early on in my career and now I've got to get back to it."

Rieder isn't the only vet fighting for a spot.

Smith-Pelly, meanwhile, figured prominently in the Washington Capitals' 2018 Stanley Cup victory, scoring seven goals and adding one assist in 24 playoff games, and is hoping to wear red silks at the NHL level once again.

"A lot of guys are sitting at home, still," Smith-Pelly said. "Definitely a weird summer.

"I talked to Brad (Treliving) early in the process, kept in touch and then talked again a couple months later. He seemed pretty sincere in that there was potentially a spot here for me to compete and make the team.

"I know I'm better than what I showed last year.

"I just need to go out and prove it."

Smith-Pelly signed a one-year contract to remain with the champs in the summer of 2018, but was unable to recoup the timely goal-scoring touch he tapped into the previous year.

Hitting the reset button proved as or more challenging as the Cup journey itself in the months after.

 

 

So, after one of the toughest years of his pro vocation - generating only four goals at the NHL level and playing a quarter of the campaign with AHL Hershey - he's determined to make a comeback.

"The mindset is that time was so fun and I enjoyed it so much, I want to have that taste again," he said. "Just remembering how good it was, and how good it felt when all that hard work - all that blood, sweat and tears - pays off, I want to have that feeling again."

The Scarborough, Ont., native has 44 goals and 101 points in 395 career games with the Ducks, Habs, Devils and Caps.

But there's more to NHL service than points, and Smith-Pelly sees an opening in the department he specializes in.

"When I'm at my best, I'm hitting guys and creating space for my linemates, in addition to the offensive production," he said.

"That's what I have to show.

"It's obviously pretty tough to do that in practice - I don't want to hit any of the veteran guys or anything like that - so I'm going to have to make hay in the (pre-season) games."

Treliving calls this one of the most competitive camps he's ever been a part of here in Calgary. With as many 18 forwards "realistically" pushing for one of the 12 spots available, the PTOs and rookie-camp standouts have limited time to make an impression.

But it's a fair look, nonetheless.

 

Video: "We'll continue to work at it"

 

"There's going to be great opportunity for the PTO guys, and if you look at (Dillon) Dube in rookie camp, you look at (Glenn) Gawdin in rookie camp - they're pushing. I think it's great to have competition," Treliving said.

"When you look at the wall, and we've got all these players making up six lines, and we only play four lines in a game, that's a good problem to have. If Matthew (Tkachuk) and Andrew (Mangiapane) aren't here for any period of time, there's at least some other guys that are trying to grab maybe a better look-see than maybe they'd normally have.

"Excited about the people that are here, and excited to see how the pre-season will play itself out. The players always decide. The players will let you know.

"I think there are going to be some fights for a couple of spots, but also some depth that we feel is important."

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