CALGARY – When Blake Coleman was traded from New Jersey to Tampa, he was surprised how many times he was recognized by diehard fans while out and about in the Bay area.
He knew nothing would surprise him in Calgary, where the Flames shiniest free-agent acquisition has been regularly welcomed by local supporters.
“I’ve had my fair share of people spotting me out and about here already and I haven’t even played a game yet,” chuckled the 29-year-old Texan.
“They’re all over their hockey here, so it’s going to be fun.”
One encounter he admits he couldn't have foreseen came via his first interaction with Canadian wildlife.
“Everyone has been talking about the wildlife you see here and I had never seen anything, and then the other day I was driving down one of the highways and there was a cow in the middle of the road,” he smiled.
“There’s cows all over Texas and it’s the least exciting experience. After all the hype of what I was going to see out here, that was kind of a fun story. I just haven’t seen many cows walking down the highway – that was a first for me.”
Thanks to a pre-season suspension that caused him to miss the last exhibition game and Saturday's losing effort in Edmonton, his first game in Calgary goes Monday night at the Saddledome where the longtime resident of the Eastern Conference admits he doesn’t have too many memories other than the sea of red jerseys.
“The last game I played here I want to say we lost 9-4, so I got to hear the goal horn quite a bit and saw the fans celebrate,” said the personable winger, who signed a six-year, $29.4 million deal with Calgary in the summer.
“It’s Canada so you know it’s going to be a fun atmosphere and people enjoy the game and understand what’s going on. I’m excited to start a new chapter.”
He’s destined to be a fan favourite here, based on a renowned work ethic, a 200-foot game and an upside that could see him scoring upwards of 25 to 30 goals.
Because he played so little in the pre-season and missed the season lid-lifter in Edmonton, Coleman will start Monday on the third line alongside Mikael Backlund and Milan Lucic.
However, given his pay grade and skill set, you can bet he’ll be a top-six forward the rest of the season - a big part of why he chose to sign with the Flames.
Darryl Sutter opened camp with him on the top line with Elias Lindholm and Matthew Tkachuk where he will no doubt return some time during the club’s five-game roadie starting Tuesday in Detroit.
“It’s not how you draw it up, but it’s never how you draw it up in this sport,” he said of his suspension and late debut.
“I’ve been pushing hard behind the scenes, and our practices are no walk in the park. The way it shook out, the onus was on me to get prepared in my own way.”
That preparation includes being ready for a role that may change throughout the season, depending on who is in the lineup and how he meshes with the team’s top forwards.
Asked if he hoped to get back on the 30-goal pace he was on before being traded to the Lightning three years ago, he made it clear he didn’t want to peg a goal count.
“You have goals in your game and where you want to be, but I try to focus more on the process and playing the right way and my goals come from that and hard work,” said Coleman, who had 14 goals in 55 games as a checker last year.
“I’ve been a scorer at every level. At times it takes me a minute to get comfortable and familiar with a system or a role, but I tend to figure it out. I was on a 30-goal pace one year and over 20-goal pace for the others with almost no power playtime, so I feel like hopefully, I get that opportunity to play on some special teams here and chip in that way.
“I think the best part of my game is that scoring isn’t what I am as a player - it’s a bonus. I’m a lot more prideful of my 200-foot game - killing and being a guy that can be relied on. Obviously, the scoring is the sexy part of the game and people pay attention to that, but if I’m doing the other things right then that seems to follow.”