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TOP-10 FLAMES MOMENTS FROM 2016

George Johnson looks back on 2016's most memorable moments

by George Johnson @GeorgejohnsonCH / CalgaryFlames.com

New coach and approach. An influx of fresh, if often familiar faces.

Bookish Glen Gulutzan was in, boisterous Bob Hartley out behind the bench. Dave Cameron and Paul Jerrard joined the coaching staff.

Among the notable on-ice additions, Troy Brouwer and Kris Versteeg. Among those out of the equation, sock-less 2015 Lady Byng Trophy recipient Jiri Hudler and popular local product Joe Colborne.

Yes, the calendar year 2016 was a decidedly mixed bag for the Calgary Flames. A year of non-playoff disappointment and dissatisfaction, coaching upheaval, a goaltending revolution. But also a year of Gaudreau scorcery, Monahan efficiency, Giordano leadership and youthful development.

On New Year's Eve 2015, the Flames were trimmed 4-1 by the L.A. Kings at the 'Dome. Three hundred and sixty-five days later, as 2016 rolled into 2017, they topped the visiting Arizona Coyotes 4-2.

Here, then, as the second half of a season aiming at redemption and the beginning of a new year begin to unfold, are 10 notable storylines from in between:

1. JOHNNY, IN THE NICK OF TIME

Only three sleeps, 72 hours, remained until the Calgary Flames' seasonal curtain-raiser 300 kilometres north at 80 million Rogers Place.

New coach. Fresh approach. Usain Bolt-like start imperative.

And still no sign of Johnny Gaudreau.

Coming off a team-leading 78-point season, reaching the 30-goal mark for a first time and then dazzling on a broad international stage with the kiddie corps Team North America at September's World Cup of Hockey, the pixieish conjurer from Carney's Pt., NJ now sparkled as one of the brightest stars in the game's constellation.

After only two seasons, Gaudreau had taken his place as the new face of the franchise, its biggest draw and most compelling figure.

But the wheels of negotiation are often slow.

As the opener grew nearer, palms around Calgary were becoming increasingly moist. A weary resignation over opening the season with life, however briefly, without Gaudreau had taken hold, both inside the dressing and out.

And then on Sunday, Oct. 9th, late in the afternoon, out of nowhere, apparently: Agreement had been reached on a six-year contract.

Video: Johnny Gaudreau is thrilled to sign an extension

Gaudreau rejoined his pals on Monday and was in the lineup Wednesday when the Flames travelled north to Edmonton.

"I'll sleep better tonight,'' admitted general manager Brad Treliving in the wake of the No. 13's capture.

Along with everyone else in the 403 area code.

2. MONY, IN PLENTY OF TIME

As the summer opened, Treliving found himself faced with two major pieces of restricted free-agent business to attend to.

Step One to getting the most celebrated duo in this town since oil and gas signed and sealed went relatively smoothly.

On Aug. 18th, centre Sean Monahan agreed to a seven-year contract. A firm commitment by the two parties involved.

Since arriving after being the 6th overall selection in the 2013 draft, Monahan had struck for 22, 31 and 27 goals.

In 2015-16, despite a downturn in fortune for the team, he'd set career highs in points (63), assists (36) and power play points (20).

Collaborating with the other vital RFA piece in need of signing - Johnny Gaudreau - the 6-foot-3, 195-pound pivot had established himself as one of top young, two-way centremen around.

Video: Monahan, Treliving discusses Monahan's extension

"Loyalty,'' said Monahan the day his signing was announced, "is key. Obviously I want to be here. If you could play until you're 50, I would sign a 20-year contract.

"This is where I want to be."

3. KEYS TO THE KINGDOM

The hire, moving forward, simply could not have been more vital.

Incumbent Bob Hartley - the reigning Jack Adams Trophy winner as NHL Coach of the Year - had been relieved of his duties down at the Scotiabank Saddledome on May 3rd following a deflating 35-40-7, non-playoff season through 2015-16.

So the next man up to take the reins of the Calgary Flames would be entrusted with setting the tempo, the example, for an increasing young corps of players looking to leapfrog back up into the postseason frame.

Seven weeks after Hartley's dismissal, following an exhaustive search, 44-year-old Glen Gulutzan was officially unveiled as the man of choice.

Gulutzan had spent the previous three seasons as an assistant in the employ of the Vancouver Canucks. Before that, he'd piloted the Dallas Stars for two seasons, going 64-57-9 but failing to qualify for the Stanley Cup Playoffs in either year.

The Flames were won over by Gulutzan's youth, his demeanour, his knowledge of the game and the aggressive style of play he favoured.

Video: Brad Treliving introduces Glen Gulutzan as head coach

"As we did our homework,'' explained GM Brad Trelviing, "the one thing that kept coming back … we talked to all sorts of people that were around Glen in certain areas at certain times of his life, at certain stops, and it was not only the coach but the person who was drilled home."

4. NEW GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY

Legendary Montreal Canadiens' goaltender Lorne (Gump) Worsley described his chosen profession like this:

"The only job worse is a javelin catcher at a track- and-field meet."

Goaltending is the most scrutinized position in hockey: Magnified, dissected, analyzed, critiqued, turned-inside-out.

And in the aftermath of a 26th-place finish, as the Flames sorted through the reasons, one statistic could not be underplayed:

Dead last in goals-against.

Which is not the sole provenance of the goaltenders, of course. But the existing barbershop quartet of Karri Ramo, Jonas Hiller, Joni Ortio and in a brief cameo 38-year-old Niklas Backstrom, had, collectively, been torched for a league-worst 260 goals and their collective save percentage of .892 was also worst (despite the Flames finishing a respectable 11th in shots against per-game: 29).

Changes were in the offing.

Ramo, Hiller and Backstrom, all unrestricted free agents, were allowed to walk away. Ortio, a RFA, wasn't offered a new deal.

Video: One-On-One - Chad Johnson

Weeks later, at the NHL Draft in Buffalo, 31-year-old Brian Elliott - 23-8-6, 2.07 GAA (tied 2nd in the league) and .914 save percentage (first) - was acquired from St. Louis Blues for a modest - a second-round pick in 2016 and a conditional third-round pick two years later.

Seven days later Calgary-reared Chad Johnson - 22-16-4, 2.36 GAA, .920 save percentage - arrived as a UFA from Buffalo and signed to one-year deal.

A new puck-repelling era had effectively been put into action.

 5. JOHNSON'S RUN

From Nov. 15th through Dec. 10th, there wasn't a better goaltender than Chad Johnson - here, there, or anywhere to be found.

The timing of his run couldn't have been more perfect.

At the time of his ascent, the Flames were in danger of capsizing at 5-10-1, bitter memories of an off-key start to the campaign previous playing on a continuous loop in high-def in everyone's minds.

But his, and their, fortunes began to brighten that night of the 15th at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, MN.

Making only his third start in 10 fixtures, Johnson pitched a 27-save, 1-0 shutout against the Minnesota Wild.

Video: CGY@MIN: Johnson uses glove to deny Spurgeon

From there, his calming influence proved instrumental in dragging the Flames back into the playoff frame. Personally, he went on an 11-2-0 run, spinning three shutouts over 16 memorable days and piecing together a six-game win streak - Nov. 30th to Dec. 10th.

The run ended with a 6-3 loss on 'Dome ice to the Tampa Bay Lightning on Dec. 14th.

Still, the importance of his play, at such a crucial moment in the early season, could not be underemphasized.

6. CHIP OFF THE OLD BLOCK

Strip off 30 pounds of seasoned muscle and the 18-year-old could've passed for his old man.

When the Flames chose Matthew Tkachuk, son of Keith, with their first pick, sixth overall, at the NHL Draft at the First Niagara Center in Buffalo, they could not believe their good luck.

A cantankerous package of skill, determination and chip-on-the-shoulder. A power forward with the potential to drive his opponents around the bend and put the puck in the net.

Someone who'd only a month or so earlier had shaken off an ankle sprain to scored the OT winner and propel his London Knights to a Memorial Cup championship only an hour outside of Calgary, in Red Deer.

"The kid,'' said VP of Hockey Ops Brian Burke admiringly, barely containing a grin, "is kind of a pain in the ass."

He certainly caught the eye of all of those watching him through training camp, showing enough to stay with the big club to open the regular season. On Oct. 18th he opened his NHL goal account, scoring against Buffalo.

The next hurdle was past the nine-game mark. Would he stay? Or head back to London with the Knights of the Ontario Hockey League.

Video: Gulutzan has fun telling Tkachuk he makes the team

That question was answered Nov. 3rd at San Jose. Tkachuk played his 10th game. Not before a little horseplay though, in the video room.

"We kind of set him up there,'' admitted Gulutzan. "We showed him a couple of bad ones and asked him if they were NHL quality or OHL quality. Then we told him he was playing (against the Sharks).

"It was good to have a little fun with him. He's a good kid."

By the close of 2016, Tkachuk would more than prove his worth in the top flight, tied for third in Flames' scoring at 22 points as a new year dawned.

 7. SAM BENNETT RUNS WILD

On a day, Jan. 13th, when the winning Powerball numbers in the U.S. paid out a cool .5 billion, Sam Bennett hit another form of jackpot.

On an evening for the ages, the 19-year-old personally defiled the Florida Panthers for four goals, becoming the third-youngest NHLer ever to do so and the last in a Flames' jersey since some franchise icon by the name of Jarome Iginla.

Only a game earlier, he'd ended an an 18-game, 47-day goal-less drought against the San Jose Sharks.

According to Elias Sports, only Jack Hamilton of the Toronto Maple Leafs back in '43-44 and Washington's Bobby Carpenter, '82-83, were younger when they netted four.

Bennett bounded out of the gate that night, hitting for three first period goals, completing his hat trick at 17:01 of the opening stanza, backhanding a rebound underneath Roberto Luongo's crossbar.

A shower of hats and caps floated down onto the Saddledome ice in tribute.

Video: FLA@CGY: Bennett nets first period hat trick

Not satisfied with that, though, Bennett saved the best for last, in the game's final minute, pulling the puck between the feet of Panthers defenceman Alex Petrovich before beating mop-up goalie Al Montoya.

Only 24.7 seconds remained.

8. BROUWER SIGNS ON

Heading into the summer of 2016, Troy Brouwer found himself a wanted man.

Not in the tacked-up-in post-offices-across-the-land sense, but by NHL teams searching for that missing piece to strengthen their forward troops.

An unrestricted free agent at age 30, a hugely-influential eight-goal, 13-point contribution to the St. Louis Blues advancement to the Western Conference Final transformed Brouwer into a hot off-season commodity.

On July 1st, the Calgary Flames announced they'd won the Troy Sweepstakes, signing him to a four-year deal. 

Video: Troy Brouwer on signing with the Flames

Brouwer certainly addressed a number of issues surrounding the team: Quality on right wing, size (at 6-foot-3, 215 pounds), a winning pedigree (Stanley Cup ring in 2010 with Chicago), offensive consistency (he scored 17 or more goals for seven consecutive regular seasons) and a experienced voice not reticent to make himself heard, and clearly, in a dressing room full of developing players.

9. JANKOWSKI (FINALLY) TAKES A BOW

The wait seemed to last an eternity.

From June 22nd, 2012 until Nov. 25th, 2016.

The duration between the gasp over Mark Jankowski's name being called out as the 21st player selected at the 2012 NHL Entry Draft and his debut bow as a Calgary Flame.

A surprise choice, entering his first semester at Providence University, the lanky pivot became the highest-selected Canadian high school player ever on draft day in Pittsburgh.

In four subsequent years with the Friars, he grew in stature as a player and helped them snare a national championship in 2015.

All the while, Calgarians grew ever more curious about the the 6-foot-23, 200-pound package they'd heard so much about.

After finishing his collegiate career, Jankowski joined the AHL Stockton Heat to open this season.

Recalled Nov. 25th by the big team, he at long last made his NHL debut three days later at Boston, logging 10:18 of ice time.

Video: Jankowski following his NHL debut against the Isles

The stay proved brief. Jankowski was returned to Stockton on Dec. 1st but with the clear understanding that a second peek for Flames' faithful wouldn't take nearly as long.

10. GIORDANO WINS PLAYER FOUNDATION AWARD

A year before amidst the of Las Vegas, the Flames cleaned up at the NHL Awards, collecting two prestigious individual baubles.

At the 2016, only one man reached the awards-ceremony stage.

The main man. The captain.

As immense off the ice as he is on, Mark Giordano was presented with the NHL Player Foundation Award for 'Outstanding Charitable and Community Work.'

Video: Mark Giordano wins the NHL Foundation Player Award

Two seasons previous, the captain and wife Lauren had created "Team Giordano" to help provide resources to low-income schools in Calgary, helping purchase computers, supplies and floor hockey equipment, donating more than 00,000 to in excess of 1,400 students.

Giordano thus became the second Flame to receive the prestigious recognition, following the man he succeeded as captain, Jarome Iginla, a dozen years earlier.

The NHL Foundation's presents 5,000 to the winner's selected charitable foundation, and Giordano chose the Calgary Flames Foundation to share between the Calgary School Board and Team Giordano initiative.

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