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Heat forward Akim Aliu (28), pictured above in action against the Chicago Wolves, was recalled by the Calgary Flames on Wednesday.
Chicago Wolves file photo

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Heat forward Aliu recalled by Flames

Akim Aliu has resurrected his career with the Abbotsford Heat this season, and he was rewarded on Wednesday when he was recalled by the Calgary Flames.

The 22-year-old right winger could suit up for his first NHL game on Thursday, when the Flames host the Vancouver Canucks.

"He was so excited, he basically almost started crying," Heat head coach Troy Ward said, relating his phone call to Aliu to give him the good news.

"He said, 'I have to pull the car over. First of all, I shouldn't be on the phone (while driving). Second of all, I'm about ready to have a heart attack here.'

"It's really an exciting time for Akim."

Aliu spent much of last fall at home in Toronto after a falling-out with the Winnipeg Jets, the NHL team that formerly held his rights, during training camp.

He was loaned to the Heat on Boxing Day, and Ward said Aliu needed to establish himself as a reliable checking forward at the AHL level. To that end, the bulk of his ice time has come on the Heat's third line, alongside captain Quintin Laing.

Aliu embraced the checking role, and has also managed to chip in with 10 goals and four assists in 40 games with Abbotsford.

On Jan. 30, the Flames acquired his rights from the Jets on a more permanent basis, in a trade that saw defenceman John Negrin join the Winnipeg organization.

Aliu, born in Okene, Nigeria, brings an intriguing blend of size (6’3”, 205 pounds) and skill to the table, befitting his status as a former second-round draft choice of the Chicago Blackhawks (56th overall in 2007). He'll be a restricted free agent this summer.

"When all things are lining themselves right, as he's learning to do as a young man as he matures in this business, he definitely shows all the signs where you'd say this guy can play in the National Hockey League," Ward said.

"But most of those factors are physical, and they're all relative to how he plays the game. What will be his kicker is, how does he manage it mentally? That three inches above his forehead is what's going to either make or break that guy.

"This is a great opportunity to see if he can formulate how he thinks, how patient he is, and how he believes in himself in critical times. This will be a great taste for him up there (in the NHL)."

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