SUN Hockey Pool

Dawes has earned his ice time

STEVE MacFARLANE, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 10:09 AM ET

CALGARY Confidence was once Nigel Dawes strong suit.

Flames assistant coach Ryan McGill remembers their first meeting in Kootenay when Dawes was a 16-year-old Western Hockey League rookie and McGill was in charge of the Ice.

First time I met him, he was changing a stick blade in the hallway and I was standing around there, McGill recalled.

He obviously didnt know who I was because he wanted the head coach to help him pull a stick blade out.

I said, No, you can find a player to do that,

He basically told me to bug off, Dawes said with a grin when asked about their informal introduction.

No one wants Dawes to go anywhere at the moment.

And hes showing that same sort of edge he brought to the Ice during that Memorial Cup-winning season.

Currently thriving on a line with Daymond Langkow and David Moss, the 24-year-old winger extended his goal streak to four games with his eighth of the season coming Monday in a 5-0 win over the Predators in Nashville.

Although he has struggled with confidence and consistency during his first couple of seasons in the NHL, Dawes seems to have his hubris at a high point.

So do his teammates, who collectively played their best game as a group in the Music City.

Relentless on the puck during every minute of that win, from blocking shots to working the boards or supporting the rush, the Flames put together the kind of game most pundits expected to see more of this season with the kind of players GM Darryl Sutter assembled to support his core group.

Dawes was a bit of a wildcard.

Seeing the kind of skills the 5-foot-9, 193-pounder showed as a junior, both McGill and Flames head coach Brent Sutter who coached Dawes and Team Canada to gold in the 200X world juniors knew he had the potential to turn around a professional career that was pegged a disappointment in New York and Phoenix.

Struggles have been fleeting in his brief time with the Flames, and the team has shown faith in his ability to discover the kind of consistency in his game that can take him from wildcard status to a major role, much in the way Rene Bourque did last season.

Im just working a little harder to get closer to the net. A lot of my shots before were just kind of perimeter, Dawes said of his recent output, which includes gritty play along the boards and in front of opposing goaltenders in addition to the goal streak.

Youve got to work hard for it. Its not like its just being handed over.

Averaging 15:23 minutes a night this season, Dawes is eager to reward the coaching staff for acknowledging his efforts with regular ice time.

Ive been fortunate enough to get the opportunity here. I just have to keep playing the way I have been, Dawes said. I think Ive been playing pretty well over the course of the season, not too high or low.

Coach Sutter likes what hes seeing, even though theres always room for improvement.

Hes just playing a real intelligent, smart game, Sutter said.

When you play that way as an individual, and your team plays that way everyone plays that way its a pretty easy game to play.

Its finding that consistency with him. He certainly is taking his game to a level wed like him to see him play at.


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