'Strong and raring to go

RANDY SPORTAK, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 8:47 AM ET

You can cue the theme music for The Good, The Bad and The Ugly.

At least when looking back at John Armstrong's 2008-09 hockey season.

The good was an excellent showing for the Flames hopeful during Calgary's main camp.

The unheralded strapping centre was probably the biggest surprise through a couple of pre-season games.

The bad was the knee injury he'd suffered a month before camp began, which he played through but required surgery and cost him a few AHL games.

The ugly was a shoulder problem, which needed surgery once the season ended.

When all the Flames players were clearing out their lockers and meeting with the brass, Armstrong was walking around the Saddledome with his left wing braced.

So much to be happy about, yet so much to become discouraged over.

"I knew I had to get my knee fixed. It was just a minor surgery, but I knew going into Flames camp I'd have to get it fixed," Armstrong said.

"So we thought I'd go through camp, see how I do at camp and, once it was over, have it fixed before the AHL season started."

The meniscus tear happened in August, but he was very strong in a couple of games before the team decided it was time to fix it.

The shoulder issues cropped up midway through the season. He continued to play, but when the season ended, it was straight to a date with the doctor.

"It's feeling good now. I can't do contact, but I can do everything else and will be ready for the season," said Armstrong, one of the 27 Flames hopefuls in town for this week's prospect development camp.

"It was playable but painful. But every guy has some injury going on. Things are going really well -- way ahead of schedule right now -- so they're letting me do almost everything.

"(Last season) was a little bit of a setback because it seemed I was rolling and doing really well. I'd trained hard all summer and got my legs really strong, and then I got the knee injury and couldn't do anything for a couple of weeks, so I lost some of my strength," he added. "I think it took me a little extra time to get back on pace with the rest of the guys, so it was a setback, but everybody has something going on. There aren't many healthy hockey players out there."

Through it all, Armstrong had five goals and 20 points in 68 games with the Quad City Flames in his first pro season.

Now, though, he's looking for much more.

For starters, he plans to arrive for the Flames training camp in August pushing for a spot, if not in Calgary, to be among the first call-up from the Abbotsford Heat.

That's what comes from being a year older, a year stronger and a year healthier.

"I'm coming to camp trying to make the team," said the 21-year-old third-round draft choice from 2006. "I got a taste of it last year with the exhibition games and loved it. I'm coming back this year trying to make a spot.

"I know teams around the league are looking for young guys -- they're cheaper -- and I would love to be one of those guys.

"Last year was a huge wake-up call for me. It was a huge confidence boost. I think I've changed from coming into the dressing room, seeing NHL guys and being in awe of them. Now, I come in and feel I can be one these guys. I will be one of these guys. I've got the confidence now to play in the NHL and reach my goal."

The prospects camp continues today with morning power-skating sessions -- forwards at 9 a.m., goalies and defencemen at 10:30 -- followed by a 2:30 p.m. practice.


Photos