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Michael Ferland: Taking the Path Less Travelled to the NHL

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Michael Ferland has been winning his way into the hearts of Flames fans, and this article provides some bio and opinion based on what we've seen from him. He's well on his way to becoming my favourite Flame, and I know I'm not alone.

One of Ferland's eight (!) hits in Game 3
One of Ferland's eight (!) hits in Game 3
Candice Ward-USA TODAY Sports

Both Calgary Flames and Vancouver Canucks fans alike have been wondering for a good portion of this series "Where did this Ferland guy come from?" and both fan bases, but especially ours, have been enamoured with what he's brought to an already hostile rivalry. He's become a thorn in the Canucks side in just three games, and every hockey fan east of British Columbia is loving that.

Let's take a look at what's brought Michael Ferland to being a 6'2, 215 lb playoff X-factor at age 23.

His Upbringing

Ferland was born in the large (kidding) metropolis of Swan River, Manitoba, its population having hovered around 4,000 for the past few decades. Geographically Swan River is located in Central Manitoba just east of the Saskatchewan border and is approximately a six hour drive from Winnipeg and four hours from Brandon.

Ferland was raised by a single mother who made a lot of sacrifices in order to allow her son to play hockey. Amazingly, he played in only a hockey house league in Swan River from ages eight to 15 and the NHL dream never seemed possible to him, simply without many resources available.

Ferland's mother struggled to fund her son's hockey and he ended receiving assistance from KidSport and the Manitoba Metis Foundation in order to purchase equipment and pursue his hockey dream. This is an example of what these great organizations can help create, and I encourage sports fans to support them if possible. His sister also gave up her chance to play sports in order to let Michael play, as the family could only support one child in sport.

Ferland went on to be invited to a tryout by the midget AAA Brandon Wheat Kings and promptly earned a spot on the team. After he made the Wheat Kings Midget team, families of his Swan River teammates chipped in to pay for his enrolment fees in a feel good story. The unlikely dream was alive.

Junior Hockey and Being Drafted

When Ferland was 17 he began his WHL career playing for the Brandon Wheat Kings. He scored 28 points in 61 regular season games for Brandon, and helped his team to third round of the playoffs. He played five Memorial Cup games for Brandon, in the tournament as they were the host team. The Wheat Kings finished second, losing to the Taylor Hall -led Windsor Spitfires in the final.

That summer, the Calgary Flames selected Michael Ferland with their fifth round pick at 133rd overall. Ferland would stay in Brandon for the next two seasons, where he would tally 164 points and 204 PIM combined in all games played.

Ferland with Brandon

Ferland while with Brandon

Photo by: Greg Pender- The Star Phoenix

On and Off Ice Issues

Before the 2012-2013 season began, Ferland had been accused of assault and aggravated assault at a Cochrane bar. While he was acquitted of his charges this past off-season, there was little doubt that this affected him as he played two hockey seasons while facing charges.

His 2012-2013 season began with him making his professional debut with the Abbotsford Heat. It was short lived. After seven games he had registered no points and 10 PIM. He was promptly sent down to the Utah Grizzlies of the ECHL. Again, he was only in Utah for a short stay as after three games he was sent back to the WHL for the remainder of the season.

Upon returning to Brandon, Michael debated retiring from hockey entirely as he had become unhappy during the turmoil that had been his season so far. He was promptly traded to the Saskatoon Blades as a playoff rental after playing only four games in Brandon that season. Michael would then go on to persevere and find it within himself to work to turn the Blades' season around, helping the team to reel off 18 consecutive wins on their way to hosting the 2013 Memorial Cup. He ended his junior career with 29 points in 26 games for the Blades.

Alcoholism Troubles

While the majority of us can't directly relate to the struggles of playing an NHL game or fighting dumb-dumbs like Kevin Bieksa, any average person can relate to the struggles that Ferland went through over the last 18 months during his battle with alcohol.

We've all known someone who has gone through a similar battle with addiction and the strides that Ferland has made have given us a reason to like Michael the person even more than Michael the hockey player. He turned to both Bob Hartley and Brian McGrattan (who also had overcome addiction) in order to find help.

Perhaps Hartley was his biggest supporter of all. The coach challenged him by telling Ferland that if he was ready to make a commitment to his life that he could help him. Hartley emphasized the importance of choosing to improve his life before his career and that was a message Ferland followed.

He entered rehab and slowly began his recovery. It's hard to believe that a year ago today he was in rehab and now he's thrashing Canucks around. On March 27 Ferland celebrated one year of sobriety and continues his sobriety to this day. Despite all the praise he receives for his on ice work, what he accomplished off the ice truly deserves so much more. Congratulations Michael on your progress and continuing recovery, keep making us proud!

2014-2015 Season

Ferland began this season impressing the brass with his mix of physical play and scoring ability during training camp. He had also dropped weight down to 215 lbs from 260 lbs two seasons ago. While Ferland didn't immediately make the team out of training camp, he was recalled from Adirondack on October 30th and made his NHL debut on the next night. It's fitting it was on Halloween, because he's become such a nightmare for other players.

Unfortunately that game he suffered a concussion on a dirty hit from Anton Volchenkov and Ferland missed some time. Ferland would register his first NHL point in a 5-4 win over New Jersey and play a total of 10 games before returning to the AHL.

Ferland would be called up again to the Flames and stay for the remainder of the regular season, playing 16 more games, including scoring his first NHL goal against Nashville. He finished the regular season with two goals, three assists, and 16 PIM in 26 games. He earned a spot on the Flames roster during that stretch, and on April 15 his playoff career began.

Photo by: Mark Humphrey- The Associated Press

First NHL goal in Nashville

Photo by: Mark Humphrey- The Associated Press

2015 Stanley Cup Playoffs

Very rarely can a single player, especially a rookie, change the entire outlook of a series without scoring a goal. That is exactly what Michael Ferland has done over the past three games. He has stepped into the spotlight and shone as one of the best physical players we have seen in Calgary in quite awhile. THE KID IS ONLY 23! The fact that the majority of the Vancouver Canucks are using their energy thinking and talking about Ferland is a win, causing them to focus less on the game and more on if big #79 is bearing down on them. He's already got 18 hits in the first three games!

The evolution of Ferland even through just these three games has been magnificent. The learning he has absorbed already has made him look like a veteran and the Canucks look like the "dumb dumbs". He's had a target on his back all series since he tried to start a fight in Game 1 and yet the Canucks have simply bounced off that target.

For example in Game 1, Ferland tried to step in for another player after they were hammered (as most players would do), but Ferland made the mistake of dropping his gloves while Derek Dorsett didn't, resulting in the only penalty going against Ferland. In Game 3, Dorsett skated over to try and start something with Ferland and even dropped a glove getting ready to go. This time Ferland looked like the veteran and skated away. (Just saying, how come Ferland got the penalty in Game 1 for dropping his gloves, while Dorsett didn't in Game 3? Not trying to start anything, just questioning.)

Personally I enjoyed that Kevin Bieksa was the one calling him a dumb dumb after Game 2 yet he was the one who jumped Ferland late in Game 3. Perhaps the Canucks can teach Bieksa Ferland's name, too, while he's getting up after being slammed down by Ferland. I love the way he's gotten under the Canucks skin so far this series, making for some very entertaining hockey. This has been a great, exhilarating return to playoff hockey in Calgary and personally, I think Michael Ferland has been a big part of this as well as adding his own ingredients to what is the hallowed rivalry between Calgary and Vancouver.

Can't rattle 79

Nice try Bieksa, but you can't rattle Ferland

Photo by: Carmine Marinelli- Postmedia Network

There were definitely no free passes during Michael Ferland's long journey to where he is today. He achieved everything through support from friends and family, his own hard work and perseverance, and the #neverquit attitude he has. Once again Michael, I'll congratulate on conquering your demons, working hard to make the NHL, and becoming a fan favourite in Calgary over such a short span. You've made this playoff series a unique one, and played a game that the wusses out west can't handle. Well done Ferland, you're making the C of Red very proud every day!