Sutter and crew have decisions to make about who stays and who goes
As I walked in through the back-east entrance of the Scotiabank Saddledome, a collection of people scatter the upper bowls. My mission, self-assigned, was to experience the Calgary Flames training camp.
I sat a few seats down from two gentlemen hunched over, trying to focus on the tiny numbers taped to the back of the prospect’s helmets. But those numbers were nearly impossible to see.
Dallas Woiken, a dedicated community sport supporter, was really upset he had forgotten his binoculars.
He sported a Flames jersey — crested with a Conference Final badge from the infamous 2004 play-off run — matched with a Flames Rebook snapback, and a red-faced watch donning a flaming black ‘C.’
A life-long supporter of the Flames franchise and a nine-year ticket holder to the Calgary Roughnecks, Woiken bleeds for Calgary’s major community sport-teams.
It was evident he was worth talking hockey to, because let’s face it — the fans are the true critics. He told me he attends the Flames training camps every year, saying it is a great way to interact with the home team without having to fork out the dough.
He and I dabbled in a little off-season small talk, while staking out the fresh meat.
“I think Scott Hannan was the best pick up,” Woiken said. And truth be told, Calgary is desperate for that gritty blue-liner once again.
Yet number 22, Lee Stempniak — another ex-Leaf added to the roster — is the player I’d have thrown on the chopping block.
Calgary Maple Leafs has a terrible ring anyway. Well, that was my first thought.
But after a few years playing gritty Western Conference-style hockey in Phoenix, it’s clear Stempniak managed to adapt his game to how the West plays, which seems to be more offensive driven than defensive.
Wokien said if the Flames can get back on the streak like they did at the end of last year, they’d have a real shot for top spot in the Western Conference.
“They need to continue where they left off — keep playing hard and don’t put too much pressure on themselves.”
Gary Cooper, 48, a Flames season ticketholder since the 2003-04 play-off run, also attended the development camps, sitting in a different location in the Saddledome.
I caught up with him via email and asked him to weigh in.
His response: “I was at the Sunday practice and I thought Backlund was the best player on the ice. His defensive positioning and poise looked much improved over last year.
“He really seemed to have a lot of jump in his legs. He was having lots of fun and was moving the puck well,” he added.
I mentioned that Mikael Backlund was expected to spark the first line, backing up top forward Alex Tanguay — who signed a five-year extension over the summer with the Flames — as well as our trusty captain number 12, Jarome Iginla. Cooper agreed with me.
Cooper was also impressed with Henrik Karlsson, whose competitive spirit seemed to be infectious.
No doubt Karlsson — nicknamed the Calgary Tower — is a well needed assistant to our main goal-tending man Kipper, whose days of playing over eighty games a season are way overdue.
And Twitter pals Kelsey Higden, 16, and Rebekah Green, 19, no doubt love the Calgary Flames. In fact, almost every tweet of theirs during a Flames game is almost real-time action.
Whether they must catch the game on Fan 960, stream it from the official website — or luck out and have the night off from studying to catch it in high definition — they almost never miss a game.
“I’ve been a Flames fan since 2004,” Green said. “I love how the Flames can bring the city together.”
“I went to the development camp at the beginning of summer and thought Sven Baertschi looked really good. After watching him play in an actual game, I’ve been even more impressed. I think he’ll go a long way in the NHL.”
“I’ve been a Flames fan pretty much my whole life. It has always been a part of my family’s life,” Higden stated. “Watching the games, cheering the Flames on every year, it’s just something I’ve always been around.”
For her, Jordan Henry and Roman Horak were the true stars of the camp. She said she wasn’t expecting much out of either lads, but she noted it was nice to see the chemistry of the two players come together during the pre-season.
So with a few exhibition games under the belts of the prospects — the roster must thin out.
And in most cases a half-dozen guys are vying for the same position.
So for now our baby-faced prospects will flex their pre-mature skills and then some will make their way to their respected junior teams — including the Flames’ farm team known as the Abbotsford Heat.
And just weeks away from the exciting regular season home opener versus the Eastern Conference favorites — the Pittsburgh Penguins — it will be interesting to see who Sutter and company will place the responsibility upon.
Editor’s note: Gary Cooper’s first name was misspelled in our original article and has been corrected.