Ferland’s dedication paying off as he hopes to find a permanent home in Flames organization
Power forward considered quitting after being a journeyman last winter
PENTICTON, B.C. — He dragged his 234 pounds through three leagues last winter. Four teams got a load of his act.
This, by any standard, had been a rotten season.
Michael Ferland agrees, but he chooses to look at it from another perspective.
“You know, I’m actually kind of happy it went that way,” Ferland says brightly. “Where I am today, I don’t know if I’d be as committed to wanting to play as badly as I do right now. I wasn’t really sure what I wanted to do with hockey — if I wanted to keep going or what — because I wasn’t playing, I was out of shape.”
The Calgary Flames prospect admits that there had been dark days.
He considered quitting. Hanging up the skates at 20 years of age.
“I really had to figure it out,” says Ferland, a fifth-round pick in 2010. “I’m happy I’ve stuck with it. I loved the game since I was a young kid. It’s all going good for me right now. Obviously the Calgary brass believes in me. I talk with them all the time and they tell me what kind of player I can be, what kind of player the Flames need.
“I’ve just got to keep working and hopefully things will work out.”
So far, things are working out.
Ferland, at the Young Stars Classic last week, turned heads with his lively play. Soft-handedly setting up goals. Wearing an ‘A’ on Friday. Inspiring teammates with a timely scrap. Steaming up and down the left wing. Pounding the opposition along the fence. And skating like perhaps he never has.
All of which is much easier to do with 24 fewer pounds on his six-foot-one frame.
“You know what? It’s all him,” says Craig Conroy, special assistant to the general manager. “He dedicated himself to training this summer, to doing all the things that you could ask him to do.”
Basically, the Flames ordered him to change his habits.
His workouts became less about bench-pressing in the gym and more about pounding the pavement. (“I haven’t run so much in my life. It really helped me out. That’s what I needed to improve.”)
His diet became less about inhaling junk food and more about getting proper nutrition.
“He found the short fork in the off-season,” chuckles coach Troy Ward. “He found the salad fork.”
First, though, he found the proverbial fork in the road.
His stock withered badly during last winter’s tour during which he’d dabbled in Abbotsford (zero points in seven games); in Utah of the ECHL (one point in three games); in Brandon of the Western Hockey League (two points in four games); in Saskatoon (29 points in 26 games).
All of which begs the question — how much had Ferland been affected by assault and aggravated-assault charges stemming from an incident outside a Cochrane bar the previous summer?
Asked about the distraction of the ongoing legal process, he shakes his head.
“I don’t really want to talk about that,” he says quietly.
Ward, in general terms, does address the challenges Ferland has faced.
“Sometimes when you go through life experiences and they don’t work out your way — you make some tough choices in life — it’s the biggest turnaround you have in your life,” he says. “So, some things have happened in his life in the last couple years — both in the playing side of things and the off-ice side of things — and I think they’re made him mature pretty rapidly. I think he understands it now.”
A year ago, Ferland arrived at Flames camp in poor condition. He couldn’t keep up — and never did catch up.
The season’s fate was sealed.
“This year, he’s a step ahead,” says Conroy. “He has a lot of confidence. That comes across . . . you see the way he carries himself, when you talk to him. Where his mindset is, I think he’s eyeing the prize of the NHL. He sees our team is in a rebuild . . . and he’s a guy with his own unique set of skills.”
Ward agrees, but adds that the education of Michael Ferland is far from complete.
“He’s got all the physical tools,” he says. “We just need to continue to be patient with his mental development. That’s going to take some time. There’s going to be some more trial and error because he’s a young player.”
While commending the kid for his about-face, Ward credits general manager Jay Feaster and assistant general manager John Weisbrod for their roles.
“They are very understanding and very patient and very giving for people that will turn the corner through hardships,” says Ward. “Instead of throwing him down the river, the organization stood by him and hung in there with him. And he’s done the same back. There’s a lot of organizations that I’ve been in — and I’ve worked around people — and they would have said, ‘Sorry. Good-bye. We’re done here.’ I think Michael’s earned a lot of respect.”
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