Flames gain a foothold in the heavyweight division by adding McGrattan
Craig Conroy says former Flame is real gem of a teammate, too
DENVER — Early on in his first tour of duty in Calgary three years ago, Brian McGrattan showed off the softer side of his make-pain persona, hinting at the beauty in the beast, by revealing a devotion to a five-pound Pomerian that joins him for pre-game naps.
“Oh, Grats has TWO dogs,” corrected Flames’ special assistant GM Craig Conroy on Thursday morning, tickled pink by the rather startling news that McGrattan will be making a return engagement to the Scotiabank Saddledome. “One big one and one little one. The little one’s his favourite.
“One of them is about 250 pounds and then there’s this little one. He tells me once: ‘The little one? He runs the show. He’s the tough one.’ And I’m like ‘No way!’
“So he’s got this 250-pound wimpy dog and this tiny dog that acts like a pit bull.”
Well, the big dog known as Big Ern — in honour of the Bill Murray character in the movie King Pin, Big Ern McCracken — is anything but a softie.
“I’ve met him several times, I’ve seen him in action,” said Flames coach Bob Hartley admiringly. “We want to get bigger. We want to get tougher. We’re not shying away from this.
“Obviously, he’s a very tough customer.
“And I’ll be honest with you: I love him.”
So, adds Conroy, does most everybody. Unless it’s your cranium playing heavy bag to those manhole cover-sized fists, that is.
“He’s a great teammate. Ask Jarome. Ask anybody in there” — Conroy jerked a head toward the door leading inside the Flames’ dressing room at the Pepsi Center — “who played with him. Everyone gets along really well with Grats. They know him, understand what he brings, and that means a lot. If he’s in the lineup, he’s excited. But if he’s not, he understands. He’s not going to complain, ever.
“But he stands up for himself and he stands up for his teammates. That’s why guys love him.”
It’s hardly what you’d call a blockbuster, more along the lines of a chops-buster, but Thursday morning the Flames announced the re-capture of McGrattan from Nashville, shipping minor-league defenceman Joe Piskula to the Predators in exchange.
On the phone from Music City, McGrattan couldn’t have sounded more happy if he’d won the lottery or just found Maxim Lapierre or Alexandre Burrows alone in the corner with gloves inexplicably gone missing.
“I’m excited,” he said. “I can’t believe it, actually. Of all the places I’ve played, I maybe enjoyed Calgary the most. So to be coming back ...
“Calgary would have been my No. 1 choice if I could’ve picked. I always wanted to play there again. I like the city, the organization. It’s been tough here. I played the first two games, sat out 10, then they gave me the option of playing in the minors and right away I said ‘Yeah, sure. I just want to play.’ ”
So he went down, was called back up and then placed on waivers, cleared and now he’s awaiting flight instructions.
At 31, with 11 seasons and over 450 PIM on his resume/rap sheet, does McGrattan sense, as a great many in that line of work do, his appetite for knuckle-dusting on the wane, by any chance?
“Oh,” he replied reassuringly, “I think I still have a lot to offer in that department.”
Although initially assigned to AHL Abbotsford on a numbers issue, expect to see him in Calgary by the time the team returns home to face the Vancouver Canucks on Sunday.
“Grats,” said Conroy, “knows his job. And he’s good at it. He also enjoys it. And not many guys can say that. I would not enjoy it myself, but he does. If there is a problem, he’ll be there. Miikka’s coming back and if there’s ever an issue with anyone going near him, hey, Grats knows when enough’s enough.
“And this takes some pressure of (Tim Jackman). Jacks is a middleweight. He’ll fight anybody, any size, but that’s not fair, in my opinion. You want Jacks to be physical, hard on the forecheck and if something arises ... But he shouldn’t have to be tangling with those heavyweights all the time.
“Grats brings a real presence. And he’s a chirper on the bench, which I like. He’s got some great one-liners. For instance, he definitely enjoys going after the Sedins. He’s always like ‘I may be on the bench now, but you’d better hope the score doesn’t get oughta hand, ‘cause if it does, I’m out there and then you’ve got problems.”
“Bob wants us to be tougher.
“Well, this is tough. Very tough.”
Follow George Johnson on Twitter/GeorgejohnsonCH
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