Photo credit:David Moll / Calgary Wranglers
Hometown boy Mark Rassell aiming to prove he’s a late bloomer with the Calgary Wranglers
By Mike Gould1 month ago
This isn’t Mark Rassell’s first go-round in the Calgary Flames’ system.
The 26-year-old forward now has three games under his belt as a member of the AHL’s Calgary Wranglers, scoring two goals with the team over the last week. He’s currently with the Wranglers on a professional tryout after starting the year with the ECHL’s Idaho Steelheads.
Rassell is a Calgary kid and a self-professed huge Flames fan with fond memories of the team’s run to the 2004 Stanley Cup Final. Even with the temperature creeping below minus-30 on Thursday night, he still had more than a half-dozen friends and family in attendance for the Wranglers’ 3-2 win over the Ontario Reign — a game in which he scored the winning goal.
“This last week’s just been so exciting,” Rassell said on Thursday. “Signing in Idaho, a different organization, you don’t expect to get a call-up to your hometown team. When it came, I didn’t sleep for three days.
“The first couple games were straight adrenaline. And then, this week, I got more comfortable with the practices and got to know the guys, started talking a little bit more in the room. Playing at home in a familiar rink with familiar faces in the stands, it’s been incredible.”
The Wranglers elected to take a flier on Rassell as a potential late bloomer with solid size and projectable scoring ability. But a little over six years ago, Rassell was on the Flames organization’s radar in a slightly different way.
Coming off a highly productive 19-year-old season with the WHL’s Medicine Hat Tigers, Rassell attended Calgary’s development camp as an invitee in 2017. The 6’1″ forward returned for the start of training camp with the Flames later that year.
Those opportunities didn’t translate into a contract for Rassell, who went on to spend another season with the Tigers before beginning a successful three-year career at the University of New Brunswick. There, he played alongside future Flames farmhands Mark Simpson and Kris Bennett under legendary coach Gardiner MacDougall. (Editor’s note: MacDougall briefly left UNB to coach current Flames prospects Jeremie Poirier and Yan Kuznetsov during their run to the 2022 Memorial Cup with the Saint John Sea Dogs.)
Countless successful NHL players have risen out of the WHL ranks. Not nearly as many have come from Canadian university hockey. And that’s to say nothing of where Rassell went next: the ECHL.
Since turning pro with the Fort Wayne Komets at the end of the 2021-22 season, Rassell has amassed 44 goals and 87 points in 101 career ECHL games. He parlayed that success into his first AHL contest with the Bakersfield Condors last year.
Even now, more than a week after he was plucked from the Idaho Steelheads by Wranglers GM Brad Pascall, Rassell remains the ECHL leader in goals this season with 22 in 31 games.
It’s a long shot for any player to make it from the ECHL to the NHL but, much like current Flames prospect Rory Kerins, Rassell has done an admirable job of making himself difficult to overlook at the intermediary level. He scored in his Wranglers debut last Friday and tied Mitch McLain for second on the team with four shots on goal in Thursday’s win over Ontario.
“He’s a guy who was a top-five scorer in the ECHL,” Wranglers head coach Trent Cull said Thursday. “I’m not going to put him on the fourth line or whatever. I wanted to put him in a place to succeed.
“I thought he did that. He added a little scoring punch. He’s got some poise,” Cull added. “I think it’s just good to try to get him into a situation where he can show that here.”
Rassell has spent much of his time with the Wranglers on a middle-six line with two top-tier pros in Ben Jones and Adam Klapka. It’s a gesture on Cull’s part that certainly hasn’t gone unnoticed by Rassell himself.
“I’ve been scoring down [in Idaho] so to come up and not just be thrown on the fourth line and expected to grind it out, but to be put on a line with a guy like Jones and a guy like Klapka and [get] lots of minutes and an actual opportunity, it speaks to the organization that they’re doing their due diligence with scouting,” Rassell said. “I’m thankful for the opportunity and I’ve just got to keep running with it.”
No, it’s not as though the Flames are prepared to recall Rassell at any point in the near future. He’s a 26-year-old AHL rookie who doesn’t currently have a full contract with the Wranglers. But, if he keeps scoring at the AHL level, there’s always a chance Rassell could eventually grind his way into the show like fellow ECHL alumnus Marc Johnstone.
And what if he were to make it in Calgary? Even when he was down in the ECHL, Rassell kept a close eye on his hometown Flames. Now, he’s back in YYC and is just one step away from actually living the dream, as unlikely as it may have once seemed when he headed to play for the UNB Reds after being passed over multiple times in the NHL draft.
“I’m still a Flames fan,” Rassell said. “The guys down in Idaho give me a hard time about being a Flames fan. When I got the call and came out of the coach’s office and they asked me where I was going, I said, ‘Calgary,’ and they were just shaking their heads and saying, ‘Of course you’re going there.’
“I remember the ’04 run. I was about seven then. Red Mile. When I got a little bit older, those runs as well have always been fun. I’d come to the games for the Flames, and also even the Roughnecks and the Hitmen when I was younger. Then, going down to play in Medicine Hat and coming here as a visitor was incredible, too, having family in the stands.
“Coming back to Calgary, I didn’t know if that was ever going to be a thing I got to do again in my career. It’s been incredible and I’m just enjoying every second.”
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