SUN Hockey Pool

Calgarian gets shot at Flames, friend

RANDY SPORTAK, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 7:44 PM ET

ST. PAUL — It’s always a perfect time to get the call up to the NHL.

Still, Cody Almond’s recall to the Minnesota Wild from the AHL’s 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 night’s 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. It’s fun to play against friends, kinda bittersweet, but a good experience,” said Almond after the morning skate.

“We’ll have a little competition on faceoffs, so that will be a good battle.”

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

“I’ll 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 WHL’s Kelowna Rockets. “He might say stuff back, but I can’t really understand what he’s saying half the time. That Swedish accent, it’s 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.

It’s 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 didn’t 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 don’t 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 it’s all about now and want to be effective,” said Almond, an alternate captain for Kelowna’s 2009 WHL championship team.

“The big thing is for me to have more pace to my game. It’s 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 I’m always playing full speed and physical.

“It’s 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.

“It’s kinda cool, but I don’t know if it goes further than that,” he said. “They were the team I watched when I was younger. It’s just another team, now.”

randy.sportak@sunmedia.ca

twitter.com/RandySportak


Videos

Photos