The Calgary Flames get a glimpse at their future in their 2022-23 season finale
Photo credit:Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports
By Ryan Pike7 months ago
The Calgary Flames have not had a particularly great 2022-23 campaign, something punctuated by their season ending not with a playoff appearance, but with a meaningless Game 82 against the lowly San Jose Sharks on Wednesday night.
But the presence of a pair of promising prospects in their lineup – goaltender Dustin Wolf and forward Matt Coronato – provided energy, enthusiasm, and perhaps a glimpse of a hopeful future into what could have otherwise been a drab evening of hockey.
Coronato was called for a minor in the first period, and joked that he nearly fell over with the puck early in the game, but he soon settled in. He was screening San Jose Sharks netminder Kaapo Kahkonen on Nikita Zadorov’s go-ahead goal in the second period, and was credited with four shots and a plus-1 rating in 14:38. He played the game alongside Nazem Kadri and Jakob Pelletier.
“Felt great,” said Coronato to the media following the game. “It was a lot of fun. The guys made it fun. Playing with Pelts and Naz was awesome. It’s hard to put into words, but I definitely had a great time out there.”
“I think he has lots of upside, that young man,” added head coach Darryl Sutter. “He has really good hands. A good shooter, which is something that not everybody has. It was good to see him. There’s lots of spunk in his game. It was a good first outing.”
Wolf allowed a goal against in the first period, but settled in nicely from that point on and made several strong stops. He was credited with 23 saves and registered his first-ever NHL victory.
“It felt good,” said Wolf. “I thought maybe a little shaky in the first period, kinda settled down. Not a lot of shots, so just tried to stay into it. A good third period, I was happy with that.”
The exuberant energy of the two youngsters was felt as early as the pre-game warm-up. Wolf and Coronato took the customary rookie lap together, with their veteran teammates waiting in the tunnel to let them soak in the first few laps on their own.
The challenge? Traditionally, the warm-up pucks are stacked on the bench beside the gate and the first skater out, usually Mikael Backlund, knocks them onto the ice for the rest of the team to use. In all their excitement, Wolf and Coronato neglected to grab many pucks.
“We actually forgot to knock the pucks off the bench, though,” said Coronato. “So we were skating around there with three pucks, chasing down. So besides that, it was great.”
“Normally I only knock one puck off and he obviously didn’t knock many more,” said Wolf.
Thankfully, Wolf chased down a puck on the side boards and found Coronato with a pass as he skated towards the net, allowing the rookie to actually have a puck to fire on the empty net.
“I was kinda hoping he was going to give it to me, otherwise I wasn’t going to have a puck,” said Coronato. “He put it right on my tape, it was a nice play.”
In what’s often been a tense and frustrating season for the Flames, punctuated by challenging evenings and close losses, the finale against San Jose had a different vibe. The atmosphere was light. Players were joking around, especially in the locker room during the post-game media scrums. The traditional chants of “Loooo” for Milan Lucic were complimented by fans howling whenever Wolf made a stop.
Heck, Nikita Zadorov had a hat trick – his first game scoring three goals at any level dating back to his arrival in North America in 2012.
After 81 games of ups and downs, the finale against the Sharks might not have been monumental in the standings, but it was a much-needed evening of fun and levity for everybody involved. And the promising performances of Wolf and Coronato likely provided a glimmer of hope for the Flames’ future.
The future begins in the fall for Coronato, who’s off to Harvard to finish off his sophomore year of studies. Meanwhile, Wolf is headed back to the American Hockey League’s Calgary Wranglers – likely joined by Pelletier and Walker Duehr – as they finish their regular season and get ready for what could be a very lengthy post-season run.
“I think it was good for me to get a game here,” said Wolf. “And go back down and hopefully go win a Calder Cup.”
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