It's A Good Time To Be A Flames Fan

Bruce Bennett

So like, maybe the future isn't so bleak after all, right?

And when was the last time any of us were able to say that without any hint of sad sarcasm? Right?

So yeah, right now, it might suck to be an NHL fan, because we're watching none of it, and although we might pretend otherwise, obviously we just don't care about our team's AHL affiliates, and having to watch them has been, ugh, just the absolute worst. That is, if you've been able to tune in at all. The Abbotsford Heat have played 32 games this season, and 3, maybe 4, I don't know, I forget, have been on live, shiny, crystal clear television this year, and while that's usually better than what AHL teams are accustomed to, it's really a scant amount of coverage when you compare it to the ever at your fingertips NHL accessibility.

Obviously you can watch the Heat online, but the picture quality and streaming speed is about the AHL equivalent to HD on the big screen would be, and it's harder to find, and it costs more than you'd ever expect to pay, so why even talk about it? I mean, it's a grim viewpoint, but it's not too inaccurate.

So, hey, my long winded point here is that this is garbage. Thanks NHL.

But we're all more or less of the same mind, in that at some point, maybe within the next decade or so, the NHL will be coming back, and then we can all laugh and smile, and giggle coyly while we tell off owners and players, and cry, and drink, and undo all those promises we made about boycotting NHL and NHL related avenues, because let's face it, those were always empty threats in the first place.

And when we smash through that whole checklist, we can finally kick back and be Calgary Flames fans again.

And when that happens, your Calgary Flames may not be terrible. Well, okay, right away, they will probably be destined for another 10th place finish, BUT AFTER THAT!!!

No, for realz. Have you been paying attention to the World Juniors? No? Well let me tell you about it.

The Flames are as well represented at the tournament as recent memory tells us they've ever been, with 5 drafted players spread out across 3 teams. While Jon Gillies has basically just been around for the ride, and Pat Sieloff is more or less an afterthought on the American blueline, they're both out there in Somewhere, Russia, and that isn't totally insignificant. You don't end up on your national team's squad for junior hockey's toughest and most prestigious tournament if you're a Raitis Ivanans out there, so even if their participation has been, let's say limited, the fact that they're at least there is worth blathering on about.

But that's not what I'm going to be blathering on about, so breathe easy.

More importantly, are the feats and grandeur of the other three wee little Flames (and in once case, I really mean WEE LITTLE)

I'll speak to both Tyler Wotherspoon and Markus Granlund at the same time, because what THAT does is remind us that the two future Flames hopefuls were part of the trade, along with "throw away prospect" Roman Horak for the loathsome, vile, putrid, Horcoffian Tim Erixon. And Flames fans love to hate Erixon, so it's fun to talk about some World Junior double trouble action that are making the members of the legion of the Flaming C salivate, because haha Tim Erixon you play in Columbus now.

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Wotherspoon has been surprising in every facet of this whole journey. While maybe no one was particularly surprised that the Surrey native was invited to Team Canada's selection camp here in Calgary this past December, his inclusion on the final team was decidedly far more astonishing, considering the "sexier" choices, the Matt Dumbas, Adam Pelechs, and Derek Pouliots of the world were thusly not handed invitations to join Canada in Russia. Nor was the soon to be Vancouver Canuck Frank Corrado, who was considered to be somewhat of a dark horse as well, but whose play was strong enough to make Team Canada brass REALLY think twice about cutting him.

Wotherspoon may very well have been added on to the Canadian blueline for his shutdown abilities, as a good core of the back end feature more offensively minded rearguards, and Team Canada historically loves saving roster spots for the "role players", often times to a fault. The Flames second round draft pick in 2011 only has 2 goals all season for his WHL club Portland Winterhawks, but goal scoring is not how he earns his ice time, and he has not looked out of place on what has been (up until the debacle of a loss to the Americans on Thursday) a very strong Team Canada.

In fact, Wotherspoon's steady play has forced Team Canada brass to gradually elevate Tyler's role on the team, which has led to increased ice time against the opposition's tougher competition, and he has more or less done an admirable job of keeping some star forwards in check, along with his line partner, Scott Harrington. With a chance to play for a medal at a major international tournament before heading home to a VERY GOOD Winterhawks team hoping to make another claim for a WHL title, Wotherspoon continues to see his stock rise, and could very well be a name Flames fans are forced to remember.

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Markus Granlund, the other half to the Tim Erixon lottery prize, finds himself in similar territory to the rising phoenix that is Tyler Wotherspoon. This is Granlund's first chance at being "THE Granlund", as he's more or less been overshadowed on the hockey landscape by his older brother (and admittedly more skilled) Mikael.

But while Mikael, who could realistically be playing with the way out of their damn mind Minnesota Wild this season were there to be any NHL hockey this year, is stuck toiling in Houston, which I'm told does have a hockey team, and I guess some people watch them, but I've yet to see any proof of that. And on top of that, if having to be in Texas wasn't bad enough, he's spent a good chunk of the season injured, and is only starting to find his form in the North American game, and that has meant that L'il Markus has been the story at the Granlund family dinner table these days.

And yeah, he's been consistent, I guess, if not underwhelming, playing for his home club HIFK this season, notching 5 G's and 14 points in 29 games, which isn't terrible, okay? He has, however, been known to show up in a big way on the international stage. He's gone full ham at the World Juniors this year, being a TWO point a game player on a somehow otherwise hapless Finnish team that is really going nowhere.

I get that the World Juniors are hardly a definitive look at what kind of a player a 19 year old is going to turn into, but at least when you look at the bulk of all his small sample size international work, he's been pretty great (which again, is mostly me just bending the stats to support the point of my article, but shut up, okay? My role here is to normally award a member of the Flames with a gaudy sweater named after Al Coates. Like that's a PRIZE I give away)

Er...anyway, like I was saying, in two WJC tourneys and one Under 18 international contest, Granlund has 40 points in 32 games, and that's actually pretty great, okay? He, like Wotherspoon, has probably never been expected to be anything remotely instrumental to future success for your Calgary Flames, and maybe it's right to still not consider him to be otherwise. But now, based on his exploits, we can't be called crazy going forward for thinking that maybe he can surprise us all and become a very capable regular NHLer. Someday. Maybe. It's not like it wouldn't hurt to have some optimism in the wake of, I don't know, like Tim Ramholt or Chris Chucko or something (Those were hockey players, right?)

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Of course, the real eye opener, the wonderkid, our new boyfriend, maybe the greatest hockey player in the world, the cure to cancer, the...oh hey guys!

JOHNNY GAUDREAU!

Johnny Hockey, perhaps unsurprisingly, has been nothing short of a revelation, and he's arguably been THE story of the World Junior Championships.

The diminuitive winger has been lights out over the past couple of seasons at Boston College, and is a serious contender for the Hobey Baker Award (to the point where it might just be renamed in his honour). Generously listed at 5'6" (GENEROUSLY listed at 5'6"?!?!?!), Gaudreau's size probably kept him off Team USA last year in Alberta (it's certainly why he slipped into the 4th round before the Flames finally scooped him up in 2011), but his continued offensive prowess against some very tough competition in the NCAA's Hockey East Division meant that he couldn't be denied the chance to play for his country a second time.

And golly, how he has not disappointed. 7 goals and 9 points in 6 games (BEFORE A CHANCE TO PLAY FOR A GOLD MEDAL), many of them in the "Timely" variety, Gaudreau has been top billing alongside with goaltender Jon Gibson for the Americans.

Johnny adheres to that old Gretzky adage about going to where the puck is going to be, and if you don't believe me, let YouTube show you Negative Nancies just what's up:

Yup.

Look, Gaudreau's size may very well end up being a remaining factor as to why he doesn't succeed as an NHL left winger, but hey, they said the same thing about Marty St. Louis and Theo Fleury, who both broke in during eras where maybe size was a bigger issue than it is in this current incarnation of the league, so there's no point at this juncture to use that as a reason to hold him and all that potential back. Outside of his listed height, Johnny Hockey has some very tantalizing ingredients in his cupboard, and we should all be very excited about the meals he's about to make us. We could very well be eating them for a very long time.

Yes, I realize that was probably one of the dumbest analogies you've ever read, and I'm sorry. I'm probably hungry or have some other perfectly valid excuse for this nonsense.

***

Forming all our opinions on players' performances at the World Juniors is maybe the most foolish determination of skill we can make. The Tournament Of Small Sample Size has the penchant of showcasing one of two positive attributes of an otherwise very average athlete, or inversely, can amplify some niggling cons of a very good player, skewing out perspectives just enough to dismiss him. We can over-hype or brush off players on a whim, to the point where we just look stupid when these players don't live up to our expectations going forward.

But it is one more example of a whole breadth of amateur hockey that we have to consider when we try to determine if a prospect can blossom into an NHLer, or regress back into just that - a prospect. Some of the finest World Junior performances have come from guys you couldn't point out of a lineup today (RIGHT DAVE CHYZOWSKI??!), so you have to take these things with a grain of salt.

But it's not nothing. Remember how excited we were when Greg Nemisz was named to Team Canada in 2010, where he did, oh, like NOTHING? Well he's been able to equal such lofty numbers since then, so maybe sometimes these tournaments ARE good indicators of who some of these players are, which means maybe John Gaudreau and Markus Granlund really ARE that good?

It's nice to dream, isn't it? At the very least, hey we've still got Sven!

SVEN!

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