It was a good-news, bad-news deal for Eric Nystrom and Ritchie Regehr yesterday.
They again had the dreaded early-morning practice slot at the Don Hartman Northeast Sportsplex. That was the bad news.
The good news: The 22-year-old prospects had a chance to show they belonged with the big boys, sharing the ice at training camp with captain Jarome Iginla and the rest of the opening-day Calgary Flames.
"It was awesome," said Nystrom, who played four seasons at the University of Michigan. "This is what I came here for, to get a shot to skate with these guys.
"I'm just glad to be here."
Nystrom showed off his speed and playmaking skills during last week's prospects camp and skated with the potential AHLers again Tuesday. He admitted to initially being a little nervous surrounded by the Flames yesterday but became more comfortable as the workout progressed.
"I was definitely nervous," he said with a grin. "The first couple of drills, I was mishandling the passes, holding my stick a little tight. But I kind of got into a little bit of a groove and everybody's there to encourage you.
"It was a great skate."
Regehr, whose brother Robyn is already a fixture on the Flames blueline, agreed the experience was intimidating at first.
"A little nervous," he admitted. "My hands were shaking and (Flames assistant coach) Jimmy Playfair said, 'so are you nervous?' I'm like, yeah. He said 'that's good."
At one point, Playfair stumbled to the ice during a drill, which drew a loud cheer from players lined up at the opposite blueline. It was just one example of an atmosphere that seemed very lighthearted despite the intensity of the practice.
"It was special to be out there," said Regehr, adding he felt tight early on but the veterans kept him loose -- especially fellow Saskatchewan product Rhett Warrener.
"A couple of plays I fell down and he was giving it to me. It took the nerves off, I guess."
Regehr and Nystrom, along with tough guy Brannt Myhres and Lynn Loyns -- players who practised with the main pack Tuesday and joined the second group yesterday -- might be considered underdogs to make the final Flames roster but GM/head coach Darryl Sutter refuses to rule out any combination.
He says he will continue to mix things up in order to get a better look at some of the prospects.
"We have some kids that are really close to playing on our team, I think, so it'll depend on the number of guys we carry and how they play," Sutter said yesterday. "It also depends on how some of the veterans do.
"Everything is still about us getting better and if a younger player makes us better then that younger player is going to play on our team and somebody else isn't."
So far, inserting Nystrom and Regehr is the only tinkering Sutter has done in two days of on-ice training. But anything is possible for tomorrow and Saturday's pre-season games on the road against Edmonton and Chicago, respectively.
"I like both our groups," said Sutter. "It's probably the most even -- of all the young guys the most even group I've ever seen, top to bottom.
"Really, you only have two practices and then you play three games, so you try and just get a feel for where some guys fit in with each other."