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Calgary's new goaltender Jacob Markstrom gives nod to Flames history


CALGARY — The jersey number Jacob Markstrom wanted to wear with the Calgary Flames hangs from the Saddledome rafters.

Calgary's newest goaltender felt it necessary to get Hockey Hall of Famer Joe Nieuwendyk's blessing to don No. 25.

"You do a little research and you see the history of the number with a pretty good player Nieuwendyk wearing it also," Markstrom said Monday. 

"I called him and asked him if it was OK (with) him to wear it, to show him respect, coming to a new team. He didn't expect the call, but he appreciated it. He said he was totally fine with it.

"That's a number that's grown special to me. I had it for a long time, so I was nice for me to be able to wear it here."

Markstrom stepped on Scotiabank Saddledome ice as a Flame for the first time Monday as training camp got underway for a season shortened by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The 30-year-old Swede, who spent the last five seasons with the Vancouver Canucks, was a coveted goalie in October's free agent market. The Flames landed him with a six-year, US$36-million contract.

During general manager Brad Treliving's six-year tenure, the Flames have had 11 different goalies start games.

Markstrom's contract gives the Flames long-term stability in net that they haven't had since the Miikka Kiprusoff decade.

David Rittich has a year remaining on his contract. He split goaltending duties with Cam Talbot last season posting a 24-17-6 record with a 2.97 goals-against average and .907 save percentage.

Talbot, who signed with the Minnesota Wild in the off-season, got Calgary's post-season starts.

Flames head coach Geoff Ward believes he'll need both goalies in a compressed season with little rest between games.

"You want to be the goalie that plays, but you've also got to understand I've never been part of 56 games in 113 days or something like that," Markstrom said. 

"That's a tough schedule for any player, not the least the goalie who plays 60 minutes."

Markstrom has lived in Swedish teammate Elias Lindholm's basement since his arrival in Calgary in December.

"I wanted to get over here as quick as possible and work on details, meeting the guys, the coaches and the trainers," the six-foot-six, 206-pound netminder said.

 "For me, personally, it's seeing pucks and working on the details in my game that are tough to work on in the summer.

Flames captain Mark Giordano logged ice time with Markstrom before training camp.

"Skated with him a ton and the first thing you notice is how big he is," Giordano said. "He covers a lot of net. There's not much net to see when he's in there. 

"But the way he is athletically is unbelievable, too. He gets side to side really quick. He's a super- competitive guy, looks like in practice, which is always a nice thing to see."

Calgary starts the season on the road Jan. 14 in Winnipeg before hosting the Vancouver Canucks on Jan. 16. Markstrom will face his former club 10 times in the Canadian Division this season.

"Hopefully, we're going to win a lot of games against Vancouver, so it's going to be fun and I'm sure it's going to be special and different for me personally," Markstrom said. 

"Once the puck drops, the puck hasn't changed colour. That's still black, so it's my job to stop it."

Calgary's restructuring of its goaltending department in December and the signing of an expensive goaltender were "not necessarily related," Ward said.

The Flames promoted Jordan Sigalet to a new position of director and brought Jason Labarbera on as goalie coach.

Sigalet, the Flames' goalie coach for six seasons, will oversee and work with both Labarbera and Stockton Heat goalie coach Thomas Sweet.

Labarbera has yet to join the Flames because he's Canada's goaltending coach at the world junior hockey championship concluding Tuesday in Edmonton.

"We talked about goaltending being the most important position," Ward said. "We need to do the diligence with that position that we do with other positions.  

"We've got skills coaches for defenceman, we've got skills coaches for forwards, we've got guys that travel around and spend an awful lot of time with our guys. 

"We didn't really have a guy that went around as a specific goaltending guy to talk to our goaltenders and work with them on an individual basis.  Most teams in the league are doing that now. We just felt it made us a stronger organization developmentally."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 4, 2021.

Donna Spencer, The Canadian Press