Flames’ newcomer Cundari anxious to play against former team
Defenceman, who came to Calgary in Jay Bouwmeester trade, has been impressive so far
ST. LOUIS — Typical of traded players, Mark Cundari did take notice of the details.
Because, really, a deal can reveal your worth.
No headliner himself, Cundari had been tickled to be part of the Calgary Flames’ return for workhorse Jay Bouwmeester. The Flames also received a first-round pick and Swiss netminder Reto Berra.
“That was sweet,” Cundari says of his inclusion in the April 1 swap. “Jay Bouwmeester? What’s he making? Six and half million bucks a year?”
Cundari holds a relatively modest ticket of $538,888.
That’s not the end of the contrasts between the rearguards, either.
Bouwmeester — tall, lanky, conservative, reserved — plays every night of every season.
Cundari — short, stocky, risky, brash — has a pair of big-league contests to his credit. But he’s not worried about falling short of Bouwmeester-level expectations.
“Once I’m here, I can add my flavour to the team,” says Cundari. “It’s not going to be the same player as Jay Bouwmeester, but it’s going to be Mark Cundari’s version of what an NHL defenceman needs to be.
“He’s an elite defenceman. To be the only defenceman coming back the other way, that meant something to me. It’s something I’ll never forget. Huge shoes to fill.”
Right now, Bouwmeester is not on his mind.
His former employers, hosting the Flames on Thursday, are.
Despite never getting an NHL sniff with the St. Louis Blues, Cundari insists that he’s not bitter.
However . . . .
“You just really want to show a team what they’re missing,” says the Woodbridge, Ont., native. “You always want to play against the team that you came from. More of a pride thing than anything. It’ll make me feel better if I were to have a good game against them, you know.”
“But for me, it was, ‘Calgary must see something in me that they like. As long as I keep playing my game, that’ll benefit me.’ It’s good to be in a young organization . . . I’ll be able to show my stuff.”
So far, he has.
In Sunday’s debut Sunday, Cundari collected two points, logging 24:54 of ice time.
Tuesday in Nashville, he registered another assist, bagging a game-high six hits. He also took a penalty (hooking Sergei Kostitsyn) and drew a penalty (roughing from Richard Clune). And, more than once, his aggressive approach left him badly stranded.
But for an unheralded commodity who’s already got a head start on a business degree, the pro life has been a bonus. And for creaking open that door, he thanks the Blues.
A product of the Windsor Spitfires of the Ontario Hockey League, Cundari remembers the disappointment of the NHL draft. He and his father Robert sat there. They never heard Sonny’s name.
“Literally three minutes after the draft, I got a call from (Blues scout) Basil McRae and he’s like, ‘We want you to come to camp,’ ” he says. “I said, ‘Oh, awesome, I’ll be there.’ It’s cool, right? One thing led to another. I went there, had a good camp and got a contract. It was surreal. I didn’t see it coming.
“Any time someone offers you money and you’re not drafted, you’re just, ‘Sign me up, sign me up.’ ”
In all, he attended five camps in St. Louis — the recent one, January’s, being the most optimistic. Half a season in Peoria had put him in peak form.
“Everything went well,” he says. “I was under the assumption that things could fall into place. But, realistically, it never panned out there.”
St. Louis rearguards seldom got injured. On top of which, the team inked Wade Redden.
“It just kept getting harder and harder to get up there,” says Cundari. “You don’t feel like you have a shot there. It got to a point where I was happy, career-wise, that I got traded because looking at the depth there compared to here? There was no comparison.”
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