SUN Hockey Pool

Horak helps his cause

Calgary Flames Roman Horak against the NY Islanders during NHL hockey in Calgary, Alberta, Tuesday...

Calgary Flames Roman Horak against the NY Islanders during NHL hockey in Calgary, Alberta, Tuesday September 27, 2011. (AL CHAREST/QMI Agency)

STEVE MACFARLANE, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 10:32 AM ET

Sitting just over his right shoulder in the stall he occupied for the day, a baseball bobblehead offered a clue to the identity of which member of the Calgary Flames normally hangs his gear where Roman Horak parked for Tuesday’s game.

It was Jarome Iginla’s trophy for winning a baseball pool.

“Oh really? Wow, I didn’t know that.” Horak said when told he was assigned the captain’s chair. “That’s impressive.”

Impressive is the only way to describe Horak’s first camp with the Calgary Flames.

The 20-year-old centre survived a second set of cuts this week and finds himself with a legitimate shot at making a banged-up Flames team that could be without veteran middle-man Brendan Morrison for opening day.

Ironic that Horak came over in an 11th-hour trade forced by former first-round defenceman Tim Erixon, who didn’t want to sign in Calgary because he didn’t think he’d get a chance to stick around in the NHL.

With a handful of notably nifty plays during a 2-0 victory over the New York Islanders Tuesday night in pre-season action at the Saddledome, Horak further stated his case he deserves to stick around at least a little longer.

“I think it’s far, far over (them),” Horak said after the game when asked if his camp was living up to expectations.

“I didn’t expect I’m going to stay so long.”

The Czech Republic product avoided the axe that dropped Monday, sending a dozen of his fellow campers down to the AHL’s Abbotsford Heat.

“I really appreciate the chance I’m getting. It seems they kind of like me right now. Hopefully, it will stay like that.”

He didn’t look out of place playing with Alex Tanguay and Lee Stempniak Tuesday, teaming up with blueliner Chris Butler on a great give-and-go scoring chance and earning minutes on both the powerplay and penalty kill. He finished with more than 16 minutes of ice time and a plus-one rating.

“They’re both such good players,” Horak said.

“It’s kind of easy to play with them.”

Head coach Brent Sutter gave Horak a glowing review on the weekend, and offered another Tuesday night.

“I thought Roman was very good again,” Sutter said.

“He’s a heady player. He’s a smart player. He understands the ice and understands positioning very well.

“He’s obviously got skill and some hands to go with it. He was certainly very noticeable tonight in a lot of different ways.”

The son of a former Czech Republic national team centre, Horak felt the pull of North America when the Rangers drafted him in the fifth round of the 2009 NHL Entry Draft.

They wanted him to join the junior ranks, and he wound up with the WHL’s Chilliwack Bruins.

Horak showed promise with a 21-goal, 47-point rookie season, then followed it up last year with an impressive 26 goals and 78 points while helping Bruins teammate and Flames prospect Ryan Howse net 51 goals as his setup man.

While keeping an eye on Howse, the Flames knew Horak had the skills that could make him an NHLer one day. He wasn’t just a warm body they wanted as part of the return for Erixon.

And Horak is making the most of his latest move, proving he can quickly adapt to new challenges — which isn’t always easy for young Europeans.

“Off the ice, the language, it was kind of hard to adapt,” Horak said of his first year in Canada. “Now I think I’m doing pretty good. On the ice, too, North American hockey is way quicker and a lot of physical game.

“It’s a great experience. I appreciate the chance I have right now and I’ll try to do the best on the ice.

“We’ll see what happens.”


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