Make no mistake about it. Today, for Calgary Flames fans, is
Johnny Gaudreau day. Finally, after all this time. All the stress. All the grey
hairs. All the late nights sitting by the fireplace with your 7th glass of
cheap whiskey in one hand, and a box of “the Gaudfather” brandname
tissues in the other, stressing about the possibility of Johnny Gaudreau
pulling a fast one on the Flames and leaving as a UFA next year.
Well my slightly obsessed, alcoholic friend, worry no longer
because Johnny Hockey is here! Fresh off of winning the Hobey Baker Award via
unanimous decision and not winning an NCAA National Championship with Boston
College, Johnny Gaudreau and fellow 4th round pick (although a year earlier)
Bill “the forgotten one” Arnold will make their NHL debuts today
versus the Vancouver Cauncks.
Vancouver, who remade the 2002 TV Movie “Falling
Apart” in very entertaining fashion for the rest of us this season, are on
the backend of a back-to-back series to close out their nightmarish season
while the Flames finish out their 2013/14 tonight as well. Depending on how the
Dallas/Phoenix game goes, this one could be the last regular season game to
wrap this NHL season. Whatever that’s worth.
Glencross – Sean Monahan – Joe Colborne
Cammalleri – Matt Stajan – Jiri Hudler
Gaudreau – Bill Arnold – Paul Byron
Westgarth – Lance Bouma – Brian McGrattan
Giordano – Mark Cundari
Russell – Chris Butler
Billins – Chris Breen
If anyone outside of Calgary
glanced at this lineup, they would probably snicker and make some uneducated
crack about the Flames and their rebuild. Anyone in Calgary however, would look and smile
giddily. Sean Monahan is the teams top line center, and all things considered
probably deserves it. The smile fades for a second when they realize Backlund
isn’t in the line-up due to injury, but resumes when happy thoughts of how damn
good Backs has been inundate their cranium. They see Paul Byron and shortly
fight off nightmares of the Robyn Regher trade before reminiscing on all the
nifty plays and lightning quick skating he’s displayed this season as he’s
slowly established himself as a fulltime NHLer. Billy Arnold and Johnny
Gaudreau. Wait. Back up the bus. Bill Arnold as in the blocker of all shots and
Johnny Gaudreau as in Johnny flippin Hockey?! Shut the front door! The smile is
now a full on anticipatory laugh. Like a little kid receiving a SuperSoaker for
their birthday and knowing the kid next door only has a cereal box water gun.
Finally, they look at the fourth line, shudder as they scan passed Westgarth
and clench their fists at the thought of Brian McGrattan beating the Nutella
out of someone or Lance Bouma being awesome.
They now lower their gaze to the defence pairings and smugly
stare at the Oilers fan across from them at the thought of Mark Giordano and
his Norris calibre season. “You’d like him wouldn’t you?” he cheerfully
thinks to himself, imagining the trainwreck that is the Oilers blueline. He
replays that tying goal Gio scored against the Blues that December night a
fourth time in his head when he realizes: Mark Cundari playing with Gio?
Awesome to see him back up after it looked like all was lost when he was dealt
from Abbotsford to the Chicago Wolves midseason. “But wait”, he
pauses, thinking out loud. “Where’s TJ Brodie?” The Oiler fan shoots them
a dirty look, but they knows it’s only out of jealousy. Brodie’s established
himself as a top pairing defenseman in Calgary
and probably a Top 4 guy anywhere else. They remembers Hartley saying in a
press scrum that Brodie was a gametime decision, so whatever the injury is,
it’s nothing serious. Now scanning the rest of defence, they stare at Kris
Russell’s name for a few seconds, reliving the overtime winning goal in Chicago
to give Reto Berra is first NHL win, and the snipe, bardown on Friday against
Winnipeg. He’s been awesome this season and that contract extension was at
excellent numbers too. Chris Butler hasn’t even been that brutal this season.
Wow. Who knew? They desperately search for Tyler Wotherspoon’s name but have no
luck finding him, the kid’s out for the year with shoulder surgery. Too bad, he
was excellent in the few games he was up this year. Come to think of it, the
call-ups from Abbotsford were for the most part excellent, a real testament to
the new found depth of the organization.
Finally, at the bottom of the roster sheet, their eyes lock
on Karri Ramo. Who would’ve thought after that shaky game in Washington to kick
off the year that he’d would draw comparisons to the last Finnish goalie to
mind the nets in Calgary with his recent play? The Flames are in solid hands
next year if this is the level of goaltending they’ll be receiving. Speaking of
Finnish goalies, Joni Ortio showed well too in his time up. They hope he takes
the Heat all the way to the Calder Cup, what invaluable experience that would
be for all the future Flames on that roster.
They then lean back in their chair and sigh a big sigh of
satisfaction. They’re going to miss this team. Yes, this line-up has become a
lot more than just a collection of hockey players to them. It’s a group of guys
whom they’ve attached to as much as the team attached to each other. A group
that has given us incredible nights, and rewritten the stories of teamwork and
perseverance. Embracing the role of the underdog and taking us along with them
on the rollercoaster ride that was this season and at moments, offered us a
small taste – if not just a suggestion – of ’04. All for one and one for all.
The ultimate motto embraced 110% but this Bob Hartley led group of scrappers.
Playing every second for the emblem on their chests and the fans in their
seats. For that, I say Thank You. This season was so much more than I – and
presumably anybody – could’ve imagined. It
was as fun a rebuild year as anyone could’ve drawn up.
Sedin – Henrik Sedin – Nicklas Jensen
Burrows – Ryan Kesler – Jannik Hansen
Booth – Brad Richardson – Zack Kassian
Schroeder – Shawn Matthias – Tom Sestito
Edler – Dan Hamhuis
Garrison – Yannick Weber
Corrado – Ryan Stanton
- Jacob Markstrom
Let’s be honest. Gaudreau going to turn them all inside out.
If the Flames win, this Canucks line-up won less games than the rebuilding
Calgary Flames did. That’s pretty sad for a team considered to be a playoff lock
For the Flames, their fate is determined by a combination of
the Islanders game and this one. If the Flames out earn the Isles in points, or
even get the same amount of points tonight, they’ll remain in 5th. If the
Islanders earn more points than the Flames tonight, Calgary will slip into the 4th overall slot
and be guaranteed a Top 5 pick regardless of the lottery.
For the Canucks, they currently sit in the 6th overall slot
and must out earn the Carolina Hurricanes (who they are tied with and also play
today) in points to move up to the 7th overall selection. Regardless of the
outcomes today, the Canucks will select in the Top 10 at the 2014 NHL Draft.
Sum It Up
Both teams are coming into their last games of the year with
completely different attitudes and dressing room chemistry. The Canucks
dressing room is close to radioactively toxic as the team tries to pick up the
pieces of a shattered season, while the Flames are upbeat, positive and excited
for next year.
All the focus will be on Johnny Gaudreau and Bill Arnold but
I’m also going to enjoy the entire team game as a whole, for one last time.
I’ve preached that getting a high draft pick is crucial to the rebuild all
season and guaranteeing a Top 5 pick would be great tonight, but I’m more
interested in seeing my beloved Flames work their tails off for one last time
and secure a win to close out the season.
So, to close out the final FGD of the 2013/2014 NHL Regular
Season, I once again say, Thank You Flames. Thank You for a great 82 games of
quality hockey and I look forward to seeing you next season.