D-man's debut in Battle of Alberta no big deal

DEREK VAN DIEST, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 11:56 AM ET

EDMONTON -- Jay Bouwmeester never grew up an Edmonton Oilers fan.

When he was younger, the Oilers weren't very good and the local product preferred to root for the Detroit Red Wings, who were in Stanley Cup contention on a yearly basis.

So coming back home and wearing a Calgary Flames jersey in his first Battle of Alberta is not that daunting a task to Bouwmeester.

He has no allegiance to his hometown club.

"I'm kind of indifferent to it, I was never much of an Oilers fan growing up," Bouwmeester said.

"I remember their last cup, but after that, there was a time where it looked like they were going to leave and there were some pretty lean years. That was kind of what was going on when I was getting older.

"I was too young to really appreciate the Stanley Cup years, although you still get (the Battle of Alberta) -- it's Edmonton and Calgary. I go to the football games in the summer, but to me, it's not really that big a deal."

Last night, Bouwmeester played his first regular-season game in Edmonton as a member of the Flames. The 26-year-old defenceman signed in Calgary as a free agent this summer.

Bouwmeester has played in Edmonton before as a star with the Florida Panthers, but now with the Oilers biggest rival, he'll become a public enemy. It's something his family is going to have to get used to as well.

"I don't think my dad was ever a lifelong Oilers fan. I think he was a Boston fan way back," Bouwmeester said. "But my parents jumped on board with Calgary. They're happy that I'm playing close to home. They didn't get a chance to see me much in Florida. They would usually come down at Christmas time -- they are both school teachers, so basically that was the only time they got off."

Bouwmeester made his regular-season debut for the Flames Thursday, playing nearly 30 minutes in a 5-3 win over the Vancouver Canucks.

Able to play in every situation, he's expected to log that many minutes all season.

"He, to me, was certainly one of the top players on the ice (Thursday) night," said Flames head coach Brent Sutter of Bouwmeester. "He's a guy that can play a lot of minutes. He has tremendous understanding of the game, he thinks the game very well and his skating ability is very advantageous to him and to our hockey team. He's able to do things that other defencemen can't just because of the way he skates. That's why he's such a good all-around player."

Having spent the first six years of his NHL career in Florida, Bouwmeester is a relative unknown to teams in the NHL's Western Conference. They're aware the 6-foot-4, 212-lb. defenceman is talented, but his ability won't be truly appreciated until he makes his rounds this season.

"He's such a good skater," said Flames forward Craig Conroy. "In the last game, you didn't even notice that he played nearly 30 minutes. He was out there all the time. He's fun to play with, he makes good passes and he skates so well that even if it looks like you're caught, he was right there to back me up a few times.

"There are special players, and he's one of those special guys. It's impressive how effortless it looks to him."

DEREK.VANDIEST@SUNMEDIA.CA


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