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Items on the offensively-gifted wingers to-do list this year: shore up his defensive game and push for a spot on Canada's WJC roster

by GEORGE JOHNSON @GJohnsonFlames /

On their official site, the Victoria Royals are advertising a 7-Game Fan Pack priced at $119, $140 or $189.

All sorts of perks involved. But maybe best of all, your selected seat at Save-On-Foods Memorial Centre comes with a limited edition Matthew Phillips 50-goal commemorative bobblehead.

"I don't,'' confesses a bemused Phillips, "think it looks much like me, to be honest. I dunno, maybe the shape of the hair.

"But the likeness stops there.

"It's a total surprise that I'm getting a bobblehead. Kinda funny.

"But pretty cool, too."

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After a tremendous rookie campaign in Stockton, the forward is aiming to earn a spot in the Flames' lineup

by GEORGE JOHNSON @GJohnsonFlames /

Some tests, Mark Jankowski knows, can explore a young man's heart, x-ray his soul. 

That History of the Modern Middle East exam his senior year at Providence, as a for-instance.

"It was a requirement for my major,'' recalls the rangy centreman, involuntarily, almost imperceptibly recoiling at the memory. "And it was … tough. A tough class. History of the Modern Middle East. I mean, it even sounds tough.

"So I really had to focus, to buckle down, because I needed it to graduate.

"I remember the week leading up to writing it, I don't think I came out of my bedroom. Didn't get much sleep. I'm not sure I even ate.

"Just locked into my notes."

His current study habits are decidedly different. They involve every extra rep in the gym, each additional kilometre on the odometer while running, the pushing and prodding of his body to be bigger, faster, stronger, sharper.

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The Heat bench boss' experience as a player has aided him throughout his coaching career

by GEORGE JOHNSON @GJohnsonFlames /

The uncertainty. The frustration. The waiting. The wishing.

 And, yes, for a fleeting moment, at any rate, the joy.

Ryan Huska understands it all. He's lived it all.

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'I think our team is in a great spot, I like the make-up of it ... I want to be part of something special.'

by GEORGE JOHNSON @GJohnsonFlames /

Posters plastered all over WinSport are advertising an upcoming I Love the '90s Tour concert, featuring yesteryear hit-makers such as Vanilla Ice and Salt-N-Pepa.

Matt Stajan's first NHL training camp doesn't stretch back quite that far, but …

"(Sidney) Crosby just turned 30,'' the versatile centreman is protesting, with mock severity, following a pick-up, hour-long on-ice stretch of the legs out at COP on Tuesday late morning.

"I'm 33.

"So I'm like: 'He's only three years younger than me …'

"Yeah, I've been around a while. But sometimes the way people talk you'd think I was 10 years older (than Crosby); that I was 40."

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After getting his first full season of pro hockey under his belt, Jon Gillies has 'set the bar in a different position'

by GEORGE JOHNSON @GJohnsonFlames /

Trooping down the tunnel onto the ice at the Staples Centre on April 6th, Jon Gillies couldn't help but glance en route at the poster-sized images of Kobe Bryant, Magic Johnson and his idol Jonathan Quick on the walls, all toting iconic, title-tested silverware.

Readying to mark his NHL debut against the team of his growing-up dreams, the black-and-silver clad LA Kings, in front of the 18,230 SoCal crowd along with his nearest and dearest - parents, grandpa, other family - his thoughts naturally drifted back to where he'd been only 12 months earlier, how he'd reached this personal landmark night.

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He has been named the Flames' Vice President of Hockey Operations

by GEORGE JOHNSON @GJohnsonFlames /

Don Maloney is ready to roll up his sleeves. He knows he'll be left little to no choice in the matter.

The mucker beside him, after all, has already got his raised way past the elbows.

"Brad,'' marvels the Flames' just-installed Vice President of Hockey Operations, "is a workaholic. There's no other way to describe him. It's crazy. Just crazy.

"Look, I like to work. I like to grind. I thought I was bad but I look like a rookie compared to this guy.

"I really do admire the environment he's created. The staff, the people he's surrounded himself with. The way he does business.

"We've known each other a long time and we're obviously very good friends.

"I have 100 per cent faith and trust in him. And I think he does in me, as well."

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The feisty winger has his sights set on earning a spot on the Flames' opening night roster

by GEORGE JOHNSON @GJohnsonFlames /

A career door that not so very long ago must've seem all-but-impassable, barricaded and dead-bolted shut, opened a crack two seasons ago.

Last year, through sheer force of will, Garnet Hathaway managed to force it even further ajar.

This October, the aim is to throw that door wide open. Off its hinges, if need be.

In typically truculent style.

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The winger's first pro season was an eye-opener on and off the ice

by GEORGE JOHNSON @GJohnsonFlames /

In the life of any first-year pro, there's no end to the growing-up.

"The hockey part,'' reckons Andrew Mangiapane, "actually went pretty well, I thought.

"The hardest thing was living on my own. I mean, I was living on my own in Barrie but I had my billets and even then I was only 40 minutes away from my hometown, so I always saw my parents.

"When I moved to Stockton, everything changed.

"I had to cook for myself. And …" Eye-roll. "… Razzy.

"I had to clean for myself. And …" Eye-roll. "… Razzy.

"Not only was I taking care of myself, I was taking care of my roommate."

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The feisty forward earned himself a two-way contract with the Flames earlier this year

by GEORGE JOHNSON @GJohnsonFlames /

It's a generational thing, of course. Throw out the name Pat Verbeek in search of a reaction and it elicits only a blank stare.

"No,'' confesses Ryan Lomberg. "Sorry."

But when informed that Verbeek's nickname through a 19-season, 1,400-start NHL career was The Little Ball of Hate, a sense of kinship replaces confusion.

"Now that," Lomberg admits, "I like. That I can relate to."

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Union bench boss Rick Bennett thinks Spencer Foo could have a long NHL career in front of him

by GEORGE JOHNSON @GJohnsonFlames /

No more than a half-hour's drive from leafy, austere, 222-year old Union College in Schenectady, N.Y., stands the equally celebrated Saratoga Race Track.

No end of great athletes have pounded down the backstretch at the track nicknamed House of Upsets. Man o' War, Secretariat, Gallant Fox and American Pharaoh, to name but a few.

A thoroughbred of a different sort steps out onto his chosen track for the first time Wednesday, far from the familiar competitive environs of the New York campus.

"This,'' says Union Dutchmen coach Rick Bennett of Spencer Foo, "is a driven young man. 

"What's most impressive about him? Some people call it 'motor.' Compete level.

"There are many names for it.

"He has it.

"Always did, but that quality kind of came to the forefront the last two years with us. And it was really impressive, was really infectious throughout our lineup.

"We had a couple of guys who really pushed, worked so hard, set the tone, and the rest followed their lead. Spencer was one of those players.

"And he was rewarded for that."

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