Markus Granlund’s English, like his game, is still in the developmental stages, but he doesn’t shy away from a challenge.
On Tuesday, following practice with the Abbotsford Heat, the 20-year-old rookie forward from Oulu, Finland answered the bell when local media requested an interview in advance of his impending AHL debut.
During preseason stops in Penticton (for the Young Stars prospects tourney) and Calgary (for Flames training camp), Granlund had spoken to media with an assist from an interpreter – goalie Joni Ortio, a fellow Finn who suited up alongside him last season with HIFK Helsinki.
But on Monday, Ortio was reassigned to the ECHL’s Alaska Aces, leaving Granlund to fly solo. And he acquitted himself well.
“Of course it’s always a bad thing when you’re injured,” said Granlund, who is set to get into the lineup on Friday after being sidelined for the Heat’s first four games due to a lower-body injury suffered during Flames training camp.
“When you’re skating by yourself, it’s not fun. When you go with the guys, it’s fun again.
“I’ll just try to do my best and help the team as much as possible.”
The language is hardly the only adjustment for Granlund as he transitions to pro hockey on this side of the pond – there’s also the smaller rinks and increased physicality to contend with.
He got off to a terrific start at the Young Stars event, leading the tourney in scoring with three goals and an assist in three games, but hit a bit of a speed bump during Flames camp prior to the injury.
“He was really good in Penticton, and then he was just OK in training camp,” Heat head coach Troy Ward said. “It’s an experience thing, it’s a maturity thing right now. We’ve got to rev up his consistency.”
Ward said he’s not entirely sure at this point where he’ll slot Granlund into the lineup, but indicated the Flames’ second-round pick in 2011 could find a home between big wingers Ben Hanowski and Michael Ferland.
“He brings skill and speed, and he’s got a real good passion to play the game,” Ward said. “He’s got an NHL release – he shoots the puck really well. I’m anxious to get him in, because he gives us more speed.”
GOALIE SWAP SEES BROSSOIT BACK IN TOWN
Ortio, as mentioned above, headed to Alaska on Monday, with fellow netminder Laurent Brossoit making the return trip from Anchorage to Abbotsford.
The timing of the recall couldn’t have been better for Surrey native Brossoit, who tweeted on Monday that he was at home for Thanksgiving for the first time in five years.
“It was nice – it felt like Christmas dinner,” he said with a grin. “It was cool to have the whole family all together. I usually only get that once a year, so it was nice to have it a second time.”
The rationale for Ortio and Brossoit switching places, according to Ward, is to get Ortio some game action while affording Brossoit some quality time with Heat goalie coach Jordan Sigalet. Ward indicated that the two could shuttle back and forth a couple of times this season, particularly in the early going, but that it was ultimately up to Flames management.
Reto Berra has started all four of the Heat’s games to this point, and Ward said he’ll be handling the bulk of the work for the foreseeable future.
“We’re trying to get Berra as much experience as we can, so if he does go up (to the Flames), he’s ready to start in the NHL,” he said.
Brossoit said it was “humbling” to be demoted to the ECHL, but said he enjoyed his stint in Alaska. He allowed three goals on 25 shots in his lone appearance, a preseason loss to the Cincinnati Cyclones on Oct. 8.
“It was a good experience – I thought I played well, but unfortunately we didn’t get the win,” he said. “They’re a good team over there, and you get treated very well, very professionally. And the fans there are crazy.”
SIELOFF OUT, BREEN BACK
Defenceman Patrick Sieloff, who missed both of the Heat’s home games last weekend after suffering a lower body injury, will not accompany the team on their road trip this week.
“He’s in Calgary right now with the team doctors,” Ward said. “Hopefully he’ll be back the week we play Lake Erie (Oct. 25-26 at home).”
Sieloff’s exit from the Heat lineup coincided with fellow blueliner Chris Breen’s return to action. Breen, out since mid-March recovering from shoulder surgery, suited up for both games vs. the Milwaukee Admirals and earned rave reviews from Ward.
“Seven months is a long time to be away from the game, so it felt great to be back with the guys and actually play a hockey game,” the 6’7″ defenceman said with a smile.
“I was skating pretty hard up in Calgary, so my legs felt awesome. It was just some timing things and whatnot. But overall, I felt really good.”
Ward acknowledged that the Heat’s upcoming three-games-in-three-days road swing – Friday and Saturday at the Oklahoma City Barons, and Sunday at the Texas Stars – will be a grueling test for the youthful squad, and he joked that he might resort to stalling tactics to give his group an occasional breather.
“We’ll get all the tricks in the book out – goalie drops down to fix his pad, call timeouts, throw pennies on the ice,” he said with a chuckle.
“It’s going to be a tough grind, three-in-three, especially on Sunday in Texas at 5 p.m. But it’s part of the process. The way I look at it is, we get the experience up until Christmas, and after Christmas, we’ll learn what we’ve done well and what we haven’t done well and we’ll have to make a push.”