CALGARY, AB -- There was a time when defenceman Chad Billins considered himself a Calgary Flames fan.
He was born in Detroit Red Wings territory in Marysville, Michigan, but as a tyke, he was a fan of the NHL squad from Calgary.
The reason? Quite simply, he liked the colours and the Flaming ‘C’ on the jersey.
“When you’re really little, you don’t really know too much besides the colours of the jersey,” Billins said.
His allegiances changed as he grew up, but he’s back on the Flames bandwagon after signing a one-year/two-way deal with the organization on the first day of free agency, finishing off a whirlwind year for the former Ferris State University grad.
After he finished up his four-year career with the Bulldogs without being drafted, there were no NHL teams knocking on his door with a contract in hand. He settled for a one-year AHL deal with the Grand Rapid Griffins, the farm team for the Red Wings.
What came next was even a surprise to the offensive defender. On a squad loaded with prospects and even the odd NHLer, Billins was the highest scoring defenceman during the regular season, posting 10 goals and 27 assists for 37 poinnts along the way.
He credits his success to assistant coach Jim Paek, a former NHL defenceman who won a pair of Stanley Cups with the Pittsburgh Penguins in the early 90s.
“The guys we were working with…. they were really trying to develop their players and I was lucky enough to work with them for a year,” Billins said.
As a team, the squad turned into a dominating force. The Griffins won the Midwest Division with a record of 42-26-4-4, good enough for 92 points. And on June 18th, Billins held the Calder Cup over his head as part of the AHL Champions.
All in all, not a bad first year in professional hockey.
“I really didn’t know what to expect,” Billins said. ”I heard a lot of great things about pro hockey but you didn’t really know what you’re getting yourself into. I had high expectations for myself and try to take it one day at a time. You have to earn your spot every day so you take it one day at a time.
“As a team, if you were to say we were going to win the Calder Cup, that sounds all well and good, but to accomplish that, it’s really quite a feat.”
Now he’s with the Flames organization, and admits he’s never actually been to Calgary before but is looking forward to the opportunity.
“I definitely know Calgary and that it’s a great organization.”
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