SUN Hockey Pool

Calgarian gets shot at Flames, friend


, Last Updated: 7:44 PM ET

ST. PAUL Its always a perfect time to get the call up to the NHL.

Still, Cody Almonds recall to the Minnesota Wild from the AHLs Houston Aeros has been made sweeter than usual.

The Calgary product not only was given the promotion just in time to face his hometown team, the Flames, but Friday nights affair in the Twin Cities also meant a chance to square off against good buddy and former junior teammate Mikael Backlund.

I got to see him this morning, so that was good. Its fun to play against friends, kinda bittersweet, but a good experience, said Almond after the morning skate.

Well have a little competition on faceoffs, so that will be a good battle.

A battle, during which we should expect some friendly trash talk?

Ill do a little bit, try to get him off his game, admitted Almond, who went through the Northwest Calgary triple-A ranks before joining the WHLs Kelowna Rockets. He might say stuff back, but I cant really understand what hes saying half the time. That Swedish accent, its tough to understand him.

Almond, a fifth-round pick in the 2007 draft, received the call to replace former Flames winger Chuck Kobasew, who is nursing a groin injury, and started the game at centre on the fourth line flanked by Matt Kassian and Brad Staubitz.

Its the third time in his young career Almond, 21, has been given the call to the NHL.

He had a one-game stint in the middle of last season when he admittedly was slightly overwhelmed, but earned six more NHL games to finish the 2009-10 season, during which he collected his first NHL goal in a 4-3 overtime loss to the Vancouver Canucks and gave a strong impression.

In the first game, he looked like a deer in the headlights, things were buzzing around and moving around quickly, said Wild head coach Todd Richards. The second time, he looked much more comfortable, like he knew what to expect and was ready for the pace and the speed, so he didnt look out of place.

This year, the 6-foot-2, 217-lb. forward has an even different mentality, prove he deserves to be in the NHL on a full-time basis.

I dont want to say I was star struck (last year), but I was taking it all in. That was a good learning experience. I know what its all about now and want to be effective, said Almond, an alternate captain for Kelownas 2009 WHL championship team.

The big thing is for me to have more pace to my game. Its more working on my speed all the time. When I get the puck, I have to make sure those first few strides are more explosive and Im always playing full speed and physical.

Its more of a mental thing. My skating is strong enough, I just have to concentrate on doing that (moving all the time).

Almond now makes Kelowna his off-season home, but a part of him remains a Calgarian.

Although he wanted to keep it a small part when facing the Flames.

Its kinda cool, but I dont know if it goes further than that, he said. They were the team I watched when I was younger. Its just another team, now.