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Flames' Elson feels right at home in Hockeyville

by Aaron Vickers

SYLVAN LAKE, Alberta -- It's as close to home-ice advantage as Turner Elson could ask for.

The 22-year-old Calgary Flames prospect is vying for an opportunity to earn a roster spot out of training camp and will take another toward that goal when he gets into his first preseason game, against the Arizona Coyotes at the 2014 Kraft Hockeyville game here Wednesday (7 p.m. ET, NHL Network).

And that suits the former Red Deer Rebels captain just fine.

"It's an absolute hockey city," said Elson, who spent four seasons just 15 minutes up the road playing for the Red Deer Rebels of the Western Hockey League, and grew up less than a two-hour drive north in St. Albert. "Both Sylvan [Lake] and Red Deer, there are just hockey fans all over the place. It's going to be a big night. There's going to be a lot of loud fans for the Calgary Flames [Wednesday]. It's going to be great.

"You can tell the atmosphere here. They're waiting to see us play and the Coyotes. That's a big step for us. We’re going to have to make sure we're going to give the fans what they want."

Sylvan Lake beat out 15 other Canadian communities for the right to host the Flames and Coyotes at Hockeyville this year. Leading into the game, the community has enjoyed appearances by alums of each team and has been treated to youth and officials clinics as part of the four-day event.

The lakeside community also will receive a $100,000 grant for arena upgrades; that's especially important to the town after the roof collapsed on one of town's two rinks in January.

But the main attraction for Sylvan Lake citizens will come in the form of the game Wednesday.

Elson is pumped too as he looks to build momentum in Calgary's camp.

"I think I'm building every day, and building a foundation for myself and for them to notice me in different ways," said Elson, who had 72 goals and 151 points in 254 Western Hockey League games with the Rebels. "That's what I want to build. I think my confidence is more up this year and I'm playing with a little bit more of an edge. That's what I want to play with.

"You want to be a guy who knows how to play his role and knows how to go out there and do the things he has to do to make the team win and keep the coaches happy."

He's certainly caught the eye of coach Bob Hartley, who didn't hesitate to heap praise on Elson.

"I compare him to Mike Keane with more speed," said Hartley, who coached Keane for parts of two seasons (2001-03) with the Colorado Avalanche. "I think that he has the potential to become a Mike Keane. I coached [Keane] and I loved him and I look at this kid, he has grit. He's not the biggest guy but he plays much bigger than his size. Last year it was kind of an OK season for him. He's in great shape. He's moving well.

"I pull for this kid."

Opportunity may be knocking for Elson.

Mikael Backlund, Calgary's top center last season, is sidelined with an abdominal strain. While he is listed as day-to-day by the team, Backlund has yet to participate in a practice.

It could be the opening Elson needs to make his NHL debut in October.

"I don't wish anything bad for Backlund. I want him to get better," Elson said. "But that's a big opening and there's a lot of openings that can come out of a hard camp that you play well in. You never know. This team wants to build a foundation of hard workers and build a foundation of guys that want to win. That's what I want to be."

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