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UNFINISHED BUSINESS

With a new, two-year deal in hand, Sam Bennett looks to parlay confidence of a strong playoff into a hot start this fall

by RYAN DITTRICK @ryandittrick / CalgaryFlames.com

A sour taste remains in the mouth of Calgary's perennial, playoff pugilist.

The business, "unfinished," but the fire in his belly burns hotter because of it.

Another shot - quickly, and in these colours - is all he wanted.

"It didn't feel great," Sam Bennett says, reflecting on the disappointing spring exit. "At all.

"But I'll tell you… Nothing, and I mean nothing, fuels you more than that feeling.

"We had such a good team last year. A great opportunity. And because of that, we're all chomping at the bit to get back to Calgary and get back to work again.

"We've got something to prove.

"Myself included."

On Wednesday, Bennett and the Flames avoided arbitration by agreeing to a new pact that will pay the 23-year-old $2.55 million for each of the next two seasons.

Bennett, a fan-favourite who led the Flames in playoff scoring with five points (1G, 4A) in as many outings, showed vast potential last year by playing in a variety of roles that showcased his offensive ability, defensive acumen and punishing, physical style.

He finished the regular season with 13 goals and 27 points, and a career-high 93 penalty minutes to go along with the second-most hits among Flames at 121.

"There were times where I feel I took my game to another level and showed a different side of my skill-set," Bennett said from his off-season home in Etobicoke, Ont., where he's already knee-deep into his ever-evolving summer training program. "It's good, sometimes, to take a step back and realize that, hey, I'm still young and there's a lot growing to do. Last year was just that, a year of growth, and I felt my game got better every day.

"Certainly, the confidence that I ended the season with, I can use that heading into the new year."

 

Video: Bennett's best goals, assists, hits from last season

 

Understandably, Bennett - the fourth pick in the 2014 Draft - wants more.

But for his part, he also knows he has to earn it by maintaining a high level of play throughout the season and kerbing the occasional "valley."

"Everyone wants to get more ice time and more opportunity, and you definitely get that in a 'top-six' role," Bennett said. "But I'm prepared to play wherever I fit into best - where the coaches feel I'll succeed, individually, and where I'll be able to help the team most.

"That's the thing about this group - we've got so much talent, up and down the lineup. So, it's up to every guy to make the most of what they're given, and what they're able to earn out there.

"For me, I'm definitely excited to use the momentum I finished the year off with and, hopefully, I can start off in a prominent position and help our team win."

Bennett has a fan in both Bill Peters and Brad Treliving, along with the 19,000-plus on game night at the Scotiabank Saddledome, and it isn't hard to see why.

He's a gamer.

His work ethic is unparalleled.

His overtly belligerent, hard-hitting panache impacts the game in a way that sometimes can't be measured in numbers.

And above all, he's the ultimate 'team guy' that does it all for his mates on the bench.

All in the name of victory.

"His offensive game continues to grow, but I think, specifically last year, he found a significant niche - a role - and an acceptance of what makes him successful at this level," Treliving said back on
Jul. 6.

"I see a maturity, which a lot of players go through. Everybody has these expectations and the player feels pressured, a lot of times, from the outside expectations. Ours are that we want him to be a guy that can help us win. That doesn't mean you have to be a high scorer. It's being a guy who can be a real competitive player. A guy that can play different roles, that can move up and down the lineup.

"His acceptance of what makes him successful at this level, to me, is the biggest step he's taken."

At 23, no less.

Bennett, who already has more than 300 games under his belt, feels he's just scratching the surface.

"It's been a ride so far," the winger laughed. "Last year, my role evolved over the course of the year and developed a little differently than maybe I expected.

"But that as OK.

"More than OK, actually.

"And to get this contract out of the way so early in the summer, it really helps me focus on what's most important:

"Coming back stronger, faster, better than ever so I - we - can take care of business this time."

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