Focus on Flames’ rookies more intense with club embarking on a youth movement
Calgary’s young guns report on Wednesday before heading to Penticton for the Young Stars Classic
No, it’s not Game 1 of a National Hockey League playoff series. Or even of the regular season.
But when the Calgary Flames’ rookies roll up their sleeves Thursday evening at the Young Stars Classic in Pencticton, B.C., it does stand as Game 1 . . . of a rebuild.
Which makes it significant. These are the opening steps of the first full winter of the team’s teardown.
Meaningful, too, are the matches this week, starting with the Edmonton Oilers’ greenhorns.
“Winning matters,” Flames general manager Jay Feaster said Tuesday afternoon. “Bottom line is winning. That’s the objective, the standard, the criteria, from an organizational standpoint. We will not use youth or inexperience . . . as reasons to say, ‘It’s OK if you don’t win.’ It’s not OK not to win.
“We believe players develop better and faster in a winning atmosphere. The plan going into Penticton is you better believe we want to win those games. We’re not telling these kids, ‘Don’t worry about the final result.’ This isn’t youth sports where we say, ‘Oh, don’t keep score,’ or, ‘Once you get a four-goal lead, we’ll just stop counting.’ This isn’t my kids playing. This is for real.
“This is auditioning for jobs in the National Hockey League.”
And, for the Flames, there will be plenty on display at the South Okanagan Events Centre.
For instance, four first-rounders (Sven Baertschi, Sean Monahan, Emile Poirier, Morgan Klimchuk).
Two legitimate candidates in net (Laurent Brossoit, Joni Ortio), not to mention the upgraded centre-ice position (Markus Granlund, Josh Jooris, Corban Knight, Max Reinhart, Andy Taranto, Monahan).
Defenceman John Ramage, freshly graduated from University of Wisconsin and freshly signed, will get his first extended look.
Post-Penticton, the Flames’ rookies clash with the University of Calgary Dinos — Monday at WinSport.
Then everyone advances to main camp, which starts next week.
“Unless guys really disappoint . . . unless they give us a reason not to bring them to main camp,” said Feaster. “That’s the information that we communicated to them at (July’s) development camp, that as long as they’re making the right progression, we’d bring them (to main camp). Any number of those guys are going to get an opportunity to play pre-season games as well.”
Even though there is a herd of unrestricted free agents still in play, Feaster likely won’t make any last-minute pitches to fortify his roster.
“We’re mindful of who’s out there yet . . . but at this stage, we wouldn’t be looking to sign guys,” he said. “At this point in time, the group of guys that we have under contract, that’s who we want to bring in and look at.”
In other words, the team plans to live now with its chosen direction.
“That’s what’s exciting,” said Feaster. “Youth is going to be served. I think we saw it at the end of last season when we called guys up. We’ve seen it before when we’ve had to (promote) guys — young and hungry players bring passion and enthusiasm and excitement. It’s infectious. Even grizzled veterans, when they see the young guys, it’s a shot of adrenalin.
“For the first time in a long time, there’s competition at this (main) camp. The audition for the young guys begins in Penticton. We’re anxious. We’re looking forward to it.”
C-NOTES: G Miikka Kiprusoff, who turns 37 in October, remains an unknown commodity. Is the dude retired or what? “We’ve had conversations,” said Feaster. “We’ll have a resolution before the start of (main) camp. But it’s not something we’re prepared to discuss in one way or another right now,” . . . Add to the rookie lineup RW Dylan Smoskowitz (who skated for the OHL Mississauga Steelheads last winter) and C Andy Taranto (who’s a 25-year-old graduate of the University of Alaska-Fairbanks).
CALGARY FLAMES ROOKIE SCHEDULE
Wednesday — Fitness testing, then travel to Penticton, B.C., for Young Stars Classic at the South Okanagan Events Centre
Thursday — vs. Edmonton, 5 p.m.
Friday — vs. Vancouver, 8:30 p.m., The FAN 960
Saturday — Practice
Sunday — vs. San Jose, 6;30 p.m., The FAN 960
Monday — vs. University of Calgary Dinos, 7 p.m., WinSport
* Goalies (2) — Laurent Brossoit, Joni Ortio
* Defencemen (8) — Ryan Culkin, Zach Davies, Keegan Kanzig, Brett Kulak, John Ramage, Eric Roy, Patrick Sieloff, Tyler Wotherspoon
* Centres (6) — Markus Granlund, Josh Jooris, Corban Knight, Max Reinhart, Sean Monahan, Andy Taranto
* Left-wingers (4) — Sven Baertschi, Turner Elson, Michael Ferland, Morgan Klimchuk
* Right-wingers (6) — Emile Poirier, Coda Gordon, Ben Hanowski, Ryan Howse, Linden Penner, Dylan Smoskowitz
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