CALGARY – Greg Nemisz’s face was a little less pretty in the aftermath of Tuesday’s split-squad exhibition game between the Calgary Flames and the Vancouver Canucks at the Scotiabank Saddledome, but in some ways, he’d never looked better.
Nemisz, a regular with the Abbotsford Heat last season, opened the scoring just 47 seconds into the first period, hammering a slap shot from the slot past Vancouver Canucks goalie Manny Legace to jump-start the hosts to a 5-1 victory.
Granted, it was only the pre-season. But it was Nemisz’s first NHL goal of any description, and it was a meaningful tally for a player who’s working hard to make an impression on the Flames brass.
Midway through the second period, Nemisz shed his first blood of the new campaign, courtesy of a high stick from Canucks defenceman Frankie Corrado. But a mere flesh wound wasn’t about to dim the wattage of his smile.
“I’ve got to go in right now – I don’t know if I’ve got to get stitches or not,” Nemisz said with a grin afterward, sporting a strip of tape to close a gash near his left eye. “But it was great to get off to a good start tonight.”
The Canucks sent a callow crew to Calgary, featuring just three players who wore the blue and white last season – forwards Cody Hodgson and Victor Oreskovich, and defenceman Andrew Alberts. The rest of the roster was populated with a combination of youngsters and veterans on tryout contracts – including the likes of Steve Begin, Todd Fedoruk and Legace.
The Flames dressed a more veteran lineup, featuring top-six forwards Alex Tanguay, Rene Bourque and Olli Jokinen; blueliners Mark Giordano and Scott Hannan; and goalies Miikka Kiprusoff and Henrik Karlsson.
As such, it came as little surprise when the Flames dominated the proceedings from the opening puck-drop.
Tom Kostopoulos set the table for Nemisz in the opening minute, winning a foot race for the puck behind the Canucks net and slipping a backhand pass to the Courtice, Ont. native, who was all alone in the slot. Legace got a piece of Nemisz’s hot shot, but not enough to prevent it from trickling over the goal line.
The Flames’ top line, which featured Paul Byron flanked by Bourque and Tanguay, was dominant on each and every shift, and goals by Bourque and Tanguay staked the Flames to a 3-0 lead through 20 minutes.
Marc Mancari got the Canucks on the board 21 seconds into the middle frame, whacking a puck out of mid-air on a scrambly play in front of the Calgary goal.
Kostopoulos and Lee Stempniak tallied in the third to supply the margin of victory, as the Flames out-shot the Canucks 32-24.
Nemisz was fourth on the Heat with 33 points in 68 AHL games in 2010-11, and he also got into six NHL contests with the Flames late last season. He seemed to be around the puck all night on Tuesday, and moved it smartly in the offensive zone. He had a golden opportunity for another goal on a second-period power play, but Legace stoned him from point-blank range.
“I felt really comfortable with our line,” said Nemisz, who skated on the right wing on an effective unit with Flames regulars Jokinen and Kostopoulos. “Those guys are really easy to play with, and it was a good start.
“I’m not putting too much pressure on myself. I’m just trying to get my game in order and get ready for the season.”
Among the Flames prospects with Abbotsford connections, forward Lance Bouma also made himself conspicuous. The second-year pro played a physical game throughout, and dropped the gloves with Michael Duco late in the first period.
“That’s something I’ll have to do more this year – drop the gloves if I want to stick here,” said Bouma, who earned the decision in the short bout.
“It was a good fight. He’s a guy I’ve played against in the American League – I’d fought him once before, and I kind of knew what to expect.”
Bouma said that playing in last week’s Young Stars Tournament in Penticton enabled him to hit the ground running when Flames main camp opened this week.
“You’re maybe a step ahead of everyone else, and you have your lungs a little bit quicker,” he explained. “This week has been good, too. It’s been good to get out there with the pros, and I’ve felt good out there.”
CANUCKS WIN AT HOME
The Canucks salvaged a split of the split-squad games, winning the Vancouver leg of the doubleheader 4-3 at Rogers Centre.
Marco Sturm, Chris Tanev, Jordan Schroeder and Nicklas Jensen scored for the Canucks, while Niklas Hagman (2) and Mikael Backlund replied for the Flames. Leland Irving, the Heat’s starting goalie last season, played the the entire 60 minutes in the Calgary net, and took the loss after turning aside 18 of 22 shots.