Call him Old Yeller

RANDY SPORTAK -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 9:10 AM ET

Looking back, Stephane Yelle remembers being on the other side of the fence.

It was more than a decade ago and he was a fresh-faced youngster trying to make his way in the NHL with the Colorado Avalanche.

The linemate who guided and mentored Yelle through those baby steps was Mike Keane.

"He was way older than I was. Not way older but older," he recalled. "This is new but it's been a good experience."

The circle of hockey has come, well, full circle for the 32-year-old Calgary Flames centre, who'll return to action with his teammates tonight in Nashville against the Predators (4 p.m., Ch. 27).

Yelle is now the grizzled vet, skating with a pair of rookies the franchise has high hopes for. Over the past couple of weeks, Yelle has mainly centred a line with Dustin Boyd and David Moss.

"It brings you 10 years back, when you're younger," said Yelle, who's soon to be a father. "I just try to make these guys feel welcome and comfortable. It's tough for them to come up and try to fit in and deal with the pressure, so I just try to make it easier and comfortable and it seems to be working out."

Moss has five goals in 11 games with the big club, while Boyd has a trio of points, including a game-winning goal in nine tilts with the Flames. They both sport plus-three ratings.

The duo symbolize just how much all the call-ups from the farm -- nine players so far this season -- have contributed.

"They've done a really good job," said head coach Jim Playfair of the Omaha imports. "What I like about them is they don't come up here as guests. They come up here to work, play and carry minutes. Our responsibility as a coaching staff is to allow them to go out there and play.

"Too often you get to a point where you think, 'They should only be able to handle one or two minutes' but that's never been the mandate. When they come up here, they have to be one of 12 (forwards) and six (defencemen) and have to be put in positions where they can be good players for us.

"That's how you push the older players and that's how you become a good team for a long time."

On top of Moss and Boyd, the Flames laundry list of recalls includes a duo currently with the club -- Mark Giordano and the currently injured Richie Regehr (Eric Godard was sent back down yesterday) -- as well as Brandon Prust, Tomi Maki, Carsen Germyn and Brad Ference.

To a man, they've all provided what was expected and more, a source of pride for the players who've all suited up for the AHL's Knights this season.

"The guys who come up are excited to be here and want to make an impact," said Moss. "The coaching staff down there does a good job preparing us.

"They're missing not only Jarome but other key players, but the fact some guys are having success is good for the confidence and the more we play, the more confidence we get. Hopefully, we can keep building and keep getting better.

"Every game, we're still a little nervous and still trying to figure our way out in the NHL. It's a tough league with a lot of good players."

Lost in the success of the call-ups is the excellent job being done by Knight's head coach Ryan McGill and his assistant Scott Allen.

Akin to the expectations in Calgary, Omaha's players are told in no uncertain terms what responsibilities are in their laps, including a strong work ethic, commitment to defence and daily preparation.

"When you play there, you're preparing yourself for the long haul in Omaha, the playoffs," said Boyd, the first-year pro selected to the AHL's All-Star Game. "But you're also preparing to come here and play."

And the duo also know know they're benefiting greatly from their time flanking Yelle.

Even though their games may be different than Yelle's, Moss and Boyd are soaking up the sage advice they're receiving.

"He does so many little things right. He's great on faceoffs, he blocks shots, he rarely makes mistakes, doesn't turn the puck over," said Moss. "He's really easy player to play with in that sense.

"You can always model your game after a guy who's been around for so long and knows so much. He's made a great career out of doing all the little things."


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