ST. PAUL, MN -- Chad Billins was in the state of New York, preparing for a game against the Utica Comets, when he got the call from the Calgary Flames.
Christopher Breen, out with an abdominal wall strain, had been placed on the injured reserve and the Flames needed another defenceman to join them on their four-game road swing.
Billins, they felt, was the man for the job.
When the team left for Hamilton, he stayed behind in Utica to catch a flight from Syracuse to Chicago for his first NHL call-up.
"It's a thrill when you first hear the words, that you're getting called up. It's pretty exciting," he smiled.
"It's something you dream about when you're a little boy and it's just an exciting time. If I get the opportunity to get in, I'll be ready. Until then, you've got to stay focused and learn everything I can while I'm up here."
The 24-year-old's journey to the NHL has been a long one with a few stops along the way. After one season in the USHL with the Waterloo Blackhawks, Billins headed off to Ferris State to begin his collegiate career. He spent four seasons with the Bulldogs and ended up going all the way to the NCAA Championship game in the 2011-12 campaign, falling to Johnny Gaudreau, Bill Arnold and the Boston College Eagles in the final game at the Frozen Four.
Upon the completion of his collegiate career, he signed a one-year deal with the Grand Rapid Griffins in the AHL. He was selected to play for the Western Conference AHL All-Star Team at the 2013 AHL All-Star Game and helped the Griffins capture the Calder Cup last year.
When the 2012-13 season came to a close, he signed a one-year, two-way deal with the Flames in hopes of getting a chance to play in the NHL. Billins started the season with the Abbotsford Heat, becoming their leading goal scorer 10 games in with 5 markers to his name.
"I think down in Abbotsford, it's been pretty successful. I think that we have a pretty good team down there."
He isn't sure when or if he'll get into the Flames lineup but he has been putting in plenty of hours of preparation on and off the ice to make sure he's ready to go if Bob Hartley slides him into a game.
"You've got to work hard every day in practice, pre-game skates. You focus on the little things and try to learn from it. Take it all in. If you can pick up a few little things, that's awesome."
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