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Flames rookie Bennett impressive in playoff debut

by Kevin Woodley /

VANCOUVER -- Rookie center Sam Bennett impressed Calgary Flames coach Bob Hartley with his play Wednesday in Game 1 of the Western Conference First Round series against the Vancouver Canucks. He had already impressed Hartley with his character.

Bennett, in his second NHL game, was one of Calgary's best players in the 2-1 victory at Rogers Arena. When asked after practice Thursday about Bennett's performance, Hartley referenced the 18-year-old center's inability to do a single pull-up at the NHL Draft Combine last May. Though it was seen as an indictment of Bennett's fitness and commitment at the time, Hartley now views it as a sign of his character.

"There was many reports the kid was not a good worker and couldn't do pull-ups," he said. "When your shoulder is broken in pieces but you won't tell no one because you are a competitor and you want to be there, that speaks volumes about his character."

Game 2 of the best-of-7 series is Friday in Vancouver (10 p.m. ET; CNBC, CBC, TVA Sports).

Bennett, taken with the fourth pick in the 2014 NHL Draft, did the same thing at training camp, keeping quiet about the shoulder injury that had plagued him for months because he wanted to debut in the NHL.

"He wanted to make our team, so bad pain is not a problem," Hartley said. "Once we got him checked by our team doctors and the specialist, there was no way that he could keep going without surgery. That's the kind of player we need in this organization if we are going to make great strides forward. Yes, you need talent, you need speed, but you need character, and this kid is full of dynamite."

Bennett had surgery on his shoulder in early October and missed most of the regular season. He was sent back to his junior team, the Kingston Frontenacs of the Ontario Hockey League, and showed he had lost none of his skill by scoring 11 goals and finishing with 24 points in 11 games. He had three assists in the Frontenacs' loss in the first round of the OHL playoffs before joining the Flames.

Calgary dressed Bennett for its regular-season finale, when he had an assist, and kept him in the lineup for the opener of its series against Vancouver.

Bennett created several early chances in Game 1 by beating defenders and taking the puck to the net. He also set the screen on defenseman Kris Russell's game-winning goal with 29.6 seconds left in the third period.

Hartley said he wasn't surprised Bennett played well in his playoff debut.

"Fearless is part of his personality," Hartley said.

Bennett said he wasn't surprised he was able to jump right in.

"I have a lot of confidence in myself," Bennett said. "I wasn't afraid to make mistakes in the offensive zone. I'm a guy who's going to take the puck to the net and I'm not going to shy away from anyone. I definitely didn't try to change anything in my game and I just did my thing [Wednesday]."

That included avoiding a case of the rookie jitters.

"Definitely it's a lot different in the playoffs in the NHL," he said. "But at the end of the day, it's just another game and I've been playing my whole life, so I felt pretty good."

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