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'WHAT A FANTASTIC BONDING EXPERIENCE'

China trip should pay dividends down the road for Flames

by GEORGE JOHNSON @GJohnsonFlames / calgaryflames.com

BEIJING - Asked to pinpoint one go-to purchase over the past eight days, Matthew Tkachuk barely wavered.

"Probably," he reckoned, "the robe I bought at the Great Wall. When I put it on the guys said I looked like Will Ferrell in Wedding Crashers.
"But I like it."

The extensive planning, heightened anticipation and build-up is over, the Flames' Chinese odyssey has come to an end.

Hopping aboard a bus post-game from the Cadillac Arena and the O.R.G NHL China Games-ending 3-1 loss to the Boston Bruins for the two-hour trek to Tianjin (charter flights are forbidden in or out of Beijing) and an 11-hour charter jaunt home, the traveling contingent scheduled to touch down on the home tarmac around 11 p.m. Calgary time Wednesday night.

That was some twenty-one hours after checking out of the JW Marriott, bound for the rink.

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WORK IN PROGRESS

Flames fall to Bruins in final tilt of two-game O.R.G. China series

by GEORGE JOHNSON @GJohnsonFlames / calgaryflames.com

BEIJING - The work, said Bill Peters, continues.

"A little bit of a slow start by us,'' analyzed the Flames coach. "I thought we got better once we spent a little time in the offensive zone, a little hungrier and harder on pucks.

"We practiced hard and long yesterday. I thought it was more important than getting ready for the game, in essence.

"We got some work done, we look at two games and we know we have lots of work left to do.

"We've got to dig in when we get home."

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SHOWTIME!

Flames' game presentation team helping make the hockey games happen in China

by GEORGE JOHNSON @GJohnsonFlames / calgaryflames.com

Part hockey education. 

Part show.

And, tellingly, some Calgary Flames thrown in for good measure.

"That,'' says Steve Edgar, of the Flames' game presentation team, "has been the name of the game. And it's been fun to be a part of, creating a fun experience for the fans, but also in helping teach the game, helping grow the game."

One show down, at Shenzhen Univerisade Centre on Saturday in from of 10,000-plus, and one to go, Wednesday evening at Cadillac Arena.

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RIDING SHOTGUN

Lindholm loving chance to play with Johnny and Mony

by GEORGE JOHNSON @GJohnsonFlames / calgaryflames.com

Lines, like promises, are notoriously made to be broken.

Or at least bent, re-shaped.

"Those two,'' agreed Elias Lindholm, "are super easy to play with.

"We've only had one practice and one game together so far but I think we had a lot of chances (Saturday).

"For me, it's just a question of staying with it and hopefully put one in next game.

"Still, we've got to get to know each other a little better and work to be on the ice and get the chemistry. I thought as a line we played decent the other night.

"Hopefully we can play better (Wednesday)."

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BALANCING ACT

Smith wants to get some work in during the pre-season but team doesn't want to tire star goaltender out

by GEORGE JOHNSON @GJohnsonFlames / calgaryflames.com

BEIJING - The ace of the staff is set to take the hill for the first time this pre-season.

The guy at the glamour position is back behind centre, calling signals.

Mike Smith is eager to get this thing rolling.

But managing their star goaltender, these days, is paramount in achieving collective goals for the Flames. 

When to dial up and when to pull back.

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GOOD AS NEW

Monahan says his wrist 'feels great' after first test in game situation

by GEORGE JOHNSON @GJohnsonFlames / calgaryflames.com

Saying and wishing and even believing is all well and good. 

In the actual doing is always where the proof of the pudding lies.

"My wrist,'' announced Sean Monahan, passing his first in-combat test since undergoing surgery with flying colours, "feels great.

"Not taking face-offs was just kind of precautionary. Being a centreman and being a hockey player, you want to play your role so I started off, took the first draw, won it, so you want to get back in the circle.

"I let Lindy (Elias Lindholm) go in there a couple times. He's a good in the circle.

"So that's a nice little piece for our line."

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'THIS IS PRETTY SPECIAL'

Visit to Great Wall of China an incredible experience for Flames

by GEORGE JOHNSON @GJohnsonFlames / calgaryflames.com

Being a man acutely interested in the art of defensive fortification, Mike Smith found himself very much in his element.

"This," said Smith, staring down from a tiny stretch of a 21,196-kilometre-long twisting, turning dragon of stone, brick, tamped earth and wood, "is pretty darn impressive.

"I mean, it's unbelievable, to be quite honest. Spectacular. It's obviously something you have to see once in your lifetime.

"It's been here how many thousands of years? They obviously built this to last.

"Pretty hard to breach, I'd say."

Such is the case often with Smith.

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DECISION DROPPED

Giordano scores two to spark Flames' rally, but Bruins take China Games opener

by GEORGE JOHNSON @GJohnsonFlames / CalgaryFlames.com

SHENZHEN, China - They certainly didn't lack for resilience.

Backbone.

Or a sense of theatre.

Rallying from a 3-0 deficit, the Flames pushed the Boston Bruins to overtime, only to lose 4-3 on a Jake DeBrusk shootout goal.

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LINE JUGGLING

Frolik skates with newcomers in first practice, while Neal slots in with Backs and Chucky

by GEORGE JOHNSON @GJohnsonFlames / calgaryflames.com

It's kind of like the Marx Brothers without Harpo, the Bee Gees minus Barry or the Chipmunks deprived of Simon.

"Well,'' reasoned Michael Frolik philosophically, "we'd been together for two years.

"That's a long time."

The 3M Line, for the moment anyway, has been re-christened the 2M&1N Line.

Nope. Doesn't quite have the same ring to it.

Nothing's carved in stone, obviously, but at the outset of the Bill Peters era in Calgary, sniper James Neal has joined the tandem of Mikael Backlund and Matthew Tkachuk to man the right side, with their familiar partner Frolik slotted in beside incoming recruits Derek Ryan and Austin Czarnik.

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AS ADVERTISED

Czarnik impresses in first practice with new team

by GEORGE JOHNSON @GJohnsonFlames / calgaryflames.com

Take it from someone with first-hand knowledge. 

Underneath that infamously corrosive veneer of rancor and latent incivility, there's a lot to love about the current incarnation of the Little Ball of Hate.

"Brad Marchand?" says Austin Czarnik. "Awesome guy. Great guy. Humble. Goes out of his way to say hi to people. Not at all what you see on the ice. And what a player.

"I remember my first ever NHL game, against Columbus. Him and (David) Pasternak went out there and put up something like five points each.

"I'm just like: 'Oh. My. Gosh. He's amazing.'

"He's so good at being a pest, getting people off their game. Maybe I can get under his skin a little tomorrow, just for fun.

"Poke the bear, you know."

Or, more correctly, the Bruin.

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