Dinos stars wowed after being invited to Flames camp
NHL club fills out scrimmage roster with three players from the University of Calgary
Apologies to Brock Nixon’s University of Calgary teachers in the faculty of education.
But skipping classes on Monday was simply a no-brainer for the 25-year-old forward and his Dinos’ teammates Walker Wintoneak and Taylor Stefishen who were extra roster filler for the Calgary Flames’ training camp scrimmage at the Scotiabank Saddledome.
So, in other words, if anyone happened to take notes, pass them along — please and thank-you.
“They said they were short a couple numbers and how they wanted three full lines for each team,” Nixon was saying following the scrimmage, a meaningless 2-1 win for the Red team against his Black squad. “They were wondering if we could send a couple forwards.
“And I’m not going to pass up an opportunity like that.”
Throughout the fall, Dinos’ head coach Mark Howell along with assistants Cory Cross and Brad Kirkwood had been running practices for a group of NHL skaters at WinSport. Occasionally, the U of C players would join for the extra ice time.
After Saturday’s 5-3 win over Regina, the coaching staff gave Nixon, Stefishen, and Wintoneak their assignment — but were given no free passes. The trio, following their ice time with Alex Tanguay, Curtis Glencross, and Mike Cammalleri and friends, had to rush across town in time for Monday’s skate with the Dinos at Father David Bauer arena.
Not that they were complaining.
“It was pretty cool to be on the same sheet of ice as them,” Nixon said. “I was obviously pretty nervous out there. You’ve got guys out there fighting for jobs and fighting for spots in the lineup. They were going hard. They’re here for a reason and they start their season pretty quick here.
“For me, it was a matter of trying to play my position and try to make a few good passes and get skating when I could. But I didn’t feel too out of place out there. Obviously, the pace was higher than I’m used to, but it was a fun experience.”
Stefishen, a former fifth-round pick of the Nashville Predators, said he was more excited than nervous.
“I mean, once you got to the rink and with 10 minutes to go on the ice, then the nerves started to kick in,” admitted the 22-year-old with a grin. “But, prior to that, it was just more excitement.
“You don’t want to look out of place, so you’re concentrating and giving it all you’ve got out there.”
And Stefishen, for one, should know. He’d been to camps with Nashville before being traded to Washington and attended the Capitals’ prospects camp this past summer.
However, it’s a unique scenario at the Dome this week. Unlike a normal training camp, the Flames are trying to compact their evaluations into seven days of work before NHL action begins on Sunday.
They need as much ice time as they can get, as fast as possible.
“They have a week, maybe, to get going and they’re right into games,” said Stefishen, who played for the Western Hockey League’s Prince George Cougars. “It’s definitely different than years past where you’d have maybe a month and then some exhibition games.
“This one, they get thrown right into the fire.”
But all three players understood their role on Monday.
Winning over Roman Horak’s roster spot or dropping the gloves with Tim Jackman was not on their agenda. Keeping up and staying out of the way was, basically, their only assignment.
“I know the reason we’re here is just to make sure they had extra bodies to make it more of a game rather than everyone getting tired so quick,” said Nixon, who had five-year WHL career with the Kamloops Blazers before being dealt to the Calgary Hitmen at the 2007-08 trade deadline. “For me, it was just a matter of chipping pucks and getting the puck to them when they got speed and making sure I wasn’t putting myself in a bad spot to get hurt or position-wise.”
Before and after the scrimmage, the coaching staff visited their (separate) dressing room and thanked them for their efforts.
Which was, of course, kind of a big deal — as it would be to any hockey player at any level.
“Meeting the coaches, meeting Bob Hartley,” Nixon was saying, listing his highlights of the day. “Their assistant coach (Martin Gelinas) came in and told us a few things positionally about the scrimmage. Just the experience — even if it’s just for one scrimmage as a fill-in — to be part of an NHL camp is something I never got a chance to do coming out of junior.
“It was pretty cool to be down here.”
Nixon, who graduates in April, is planning to pursue a professional hockey career himself in the minors or overseas. Stefishen, who is into his fourth year of eligibility at the U of C, also has similar goals.
So, for both, spending an afternoon at the Dome was well worth skipping class.
“It was fun,” said Stefishen. “Anytime you get an opportunity to skate with NHL calibre guys and kind of assess your own ability, it’s always good. Not too many people can say they’ve done that.
“Obviously it was a great experience.
“Maybe keeps the dream alive that, one day, maybe we’ll be in that situation not as a call-up but someone they actually invite to their camp.”
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