CALGARY - If you are looking for a signal indicating just how important it is for the young members of the Calgary Flames to feel involved right now, just look at where Roman Horak hangs his equipment.
When the rookie forward returned from Abbotsford last week, he was assigned a locker stall between Michael Cammalleri and Jarome Iginla.
“After practice, it’s not fun because all the media is here,” Horak said. “But it’s great. You can listen to the conversation between Jarome and Mike and you can learn a lot of things.
“It’s a good experience for me. It’s pretty special, actually, to sit between those two guys. I learn something every day.”
That’s probably the purpose.
With so many regulars out of the lineup, the need for rookies like Horak, Paul Byron and fellow call-up Lance Bouma to produce is at a critical point right now.
Curtis Glencross, Lee Stempniak, Mikael Backlund, Blair Jones and David Moss aren’t expected back anytime soon, so while more veteran guys are filling in on the top lines, the young guns are playing more important minutes.
They seem to be making the most of it so far.
Paul Byron scored a huge goal on a penalty shot to restore the Flames’ two-goal lead during Tuesday night’s 5-1 win over the Toronto Maple Leafs.
It was the 22-year-old’s first game back in the NHL after a month-long stint in Abbotsford.
Horak was the rookie hitting the scoresheet in Saturday’s 3-2 shootout win over the Vancouver Canucks.
It was the 20-year-old’s first game back with the Flames after a few weeks with the Heat.
“It’s huge for us,” winger Blake Comeau said. “We’ve had a lot of key guys go down with injuries so when you see Roman come up, score his first game; Paulie come up, score, that’s what we need.
“We need different guys to chip in and create some offence. I think everyone’s done a good job of doing that so far.”
Byron is embracing the pressure and looked as if he felt none of it during his deke on the penalty shot Tuesday night.
“There’s a lot of opportunity here. There’s a lot of important guys out of the lineup,” Byron said. “I think other guys on the team have to step up and respond to it. I think everyone’s doing that.
“We’re really comfortable here.”
Even parked between a couple of snipers.
Advice is impossible for Horak to avoid while sitting between Cammalleri and Iginla.
“Just to be myself and play my game and don’t be too scared out there and try to make plays,” Horak said of the things he’s hearing. “On the other side, it’s obviously a lot of pressure on me, too, so they’re trying to help me be a little bit more calm and play my game.
“It gives you more confidence. You don’t always want to listen to someone (criticizing) you. Sometimes, you want to hear ‘Good job’ and ‘Keep going’ and ‘Play your game.’ That helps a lot.”
Head coach Brent Sutter is seeing a difference.
“It’s experience and coming back confident and getting a chance to play more minutes now, too,” Sutter said. “He’s certainly a very dependable and reliable player, because he’s a smart player and he can now play in all three zones.”
A couple of extra coaches in the locker-room doesn’t hurt, either.
“Well, it was just there was a stall open there,” Sutter said with a wry grin. “But I just thought it would be a good spot for Roman, between two veteran guys.
“Coming up as a 20-year-old, being put in situations like he’s going to be put into, it can be a calming influence for him. I’m sure those guys are helping him.”