Winchester aiming to parlay pro contract tryout into spot with Flames
Former Oiler could add some depth and grit to the club’s lineup
Like everyone else in the Calgary Flames dressing room, Brad Winchester went from zero to 100 miles an hour on Sunday afternoon and was left catching his breath after the team’s first practice at the Scotiabank Saddledome.
But the 31-year-old Madison, Wisc., native was happy to hit the ground running after waiting out the 113-day National Hockey League work stoppage as a free agent and, before the Flames signed him to a professional tryout contract on Friday, unemployed.
“There are teams that are interested, but it’s just a different landscape with the expiring CBA and last summer’s free agency,” Winchester was saying following Sunday’s lengthy skate during Day 1 of training camp. “Coming into a short season, you just have to keep the mindset that you’re ready to go.
“You just have to be a professional. We didn’t quite know when the lockout was going to end. It went longer than we would have liked — than anybody would have liked. But you just have to be prepared and ready and when the opportunity comes, make the most of it.”
While a job opportunity is staring Winchester in the face at training camp this week, the added depth and veteran presence could be appreciated on the Flames’ end too.
Last season on a one-year $725,000 deal with the San Jose Sharks, Winchester had six goals, 10 points, and 88 penalty minutes in 67 games. Between seasons with the Edmonton Oilers, Dallas Stars, St. Louis Blues, Anaheim Ducks, and Sharks, he has racked up 390 NHL games.
And, based on his resume, Flames general manager Jay Feaster was interested in seeing what the six-foot-five, 230 pound forward can do.
“Given the body of work that he has had in his career . . . he’s a big guy and he’s a hard guy to play against,” Feaster pointed out Sunday. “He’s a tenacious guy on the forecheck. We thought he did a real good job last season in San Jose, for example.
“We just felt that because he was willing to come in on a tryout basis, it’s a free look for us. We’ll see where it goes.”
With no Tom Kostopolous this year, someone needs to provide the grit up front and besides Tim Jackman and, occasionally, Curtis Glencross or Jarome Iginla, auditions are open. Steve Begin, who is also on a professional tryout, is one option. Winchester is another.
Feaster acknowledged the need on Sunday.
“That’s the one thing we’ve talked about that we didn’t accomplish in the off-season,” he said. “We tried in free agency and weren’t able to do it. We had trade talks right up to the work stoppage . . . and we haven’t been able to fill it.”
And Winchester, of course, would be willing to take on a grinder role should they extend his stay.
“Certainly it’s a part of my game,” he said. “Playing hard. Playing strong around the net. Getting in on the forecheck. Bringing that physical element is part of my game.”
Sunday was only Day 1 of training camp and there are only a few days of precious ice time for team brass to evaluate his performance at camp before they’ll be thrown into the salvaged 2012-13 season.
But despite the added pressures, Winchester is trying to keep an even keel during this particular job interview.
“You can let (your approach) be any different,” Winchester said. “Your mindset has to be, to be ready to go every day. My goal is to be good every day here. I’m looking forward to the opportunity.”
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