MAKING HIS MARK
Mark Cundari made a grand entrance onto the NHL stage last spring
In his NHL debut on Apr. 21, Cundari logged almost 25 minutes of ice time and collected his first goal along with his first assist.
Not a bad way to turn some heads.
He followed up with three more auditions and hasn't seen action in the NHL since. Fast forward almost one year later, the 22-year-old will get another chance to impress Flames brass Monday night against the New Jersey Devils, somewhat of a self-redeaming situation.
"Obviously I’d love to impress, maybe start similar to the way I started last year when I got up here would be nice," Cundari, called up Wednesday by the Calgary Flames, says after the team skated at the Prudential Center. "If that happens again, maybe [I will] count the season off in a good way as opposed to the rocky up-and-down type of a season I’ve had so far."
Calgary is the third squad for Cundari this season. He was sent to the Abbotsford Heat of the AHL to begin the year, then 32 games into the campaign was dealt to the Chicago Wolves, where he put up five goals and eight assists in 22 games.
"I was pretty persistent this year, especially when I got traded," Cundari said. "I felt like the pressure was off me and it kind of game me a chance to wrap my head back around the game and restart fresh. It led to success, 22 games there in Chicago and got like 14 points and have been playing 25 minutes a night.
"Sometimes you need a change in scenery to jumpstart yourself."
Cundari entered the NHL with almost too much enthusiasm. The Torono, ON native was buzzing all over the ice in his only stint last season and it's something he knows he needs to keep in check this time around.
"I think last year, he came here in the [Jay] Bouwmeester trade and it was his first time in the NHL and there was lots of excitement, maybe too much," Flames coach Bob Hartley recalled. "Intensity was not lacking, that’s for sure.
"In our systems, the [defenceman] are aggressive but they’re playing under control ... there’s certain parts [of the system] where you can’t go there."
A lesson Cundari learned and is eager to put to use.
"This time around I feel like I’m a lot more composed and calmer, I feel like I can be a good pro out there," He said. "That’s the lesson I took from last year—tone it down, you give the game what it needs and it will reward you. You don’t have to do too much, [not] make complicated plays.
"It’s just simplicity, and that’s what I’m striving to do here."
The irony of Cundari's season will get even more interesting when the AHL playoffs get underway in a few weeks. Chicago's likely opponent in the opening round is none other than the Abbotsford Heat.
Something he admits is strange, but is looking forward to the challenge.
"It will be fun ... It’s a weird situation I’m in here," Cundari said of potentially facing some of his current teammates. "It doesn’t happen very often with restricted guys, dealt out mid-season to another team and then get called up—you’re teammates one game and then at the end of the season you go back down to the AHL and then you’re enemies the next.
"It’s kind of an interesting scenario and we’ll see how it plays out but I’m looking to come out on top."
BACK WHERE IT ALL BEGAN
The Flames called Sean Monahan's name at the Prudential center in New Jersey when they made him their first round pick in the 2013 NHL Draft last June.
A lot has changed for Monahan in the past eight months.
The 22-year-old has put together one of the most impressive rookie campaings in the league this season and Bob Hartley recalled the day he became a member of the Flames.
"He was our target—I sat in many meetings with the scouts and he was the guy that we had high hopes to get him," Hartley remembered. "We talked about several other players that we loved also but [Monahan] was a big-sized centerman that’s what we felt that we needed to get so when we got up to make our selection [Monahan] was still there.
"I know that everyone at the table was very happy."
Monahan sustained a foot fracture and was sidelined for seven games in late November. Recovering from that injury is something Hartley singled out as a big step for the rookie pivot.
"With [Monahan], I think everything happened to him this year," the coach said Sunday. "He played very well, he showed unbelievable progression and he got hurt. You never want young players to get hurt but at the same time they have to learn to deal [with] this. He faced a lot of mental challenges and he dealt with them very well.
"I think that his hockey sense shows unbelievable maturity for a young man of his age so we’re very happy with him."
Although the Brampton, ON native hit the 20 goal plateau, Hartley points to the other areas in his game that make him a valuable commodity to the team.
"[Monahan] will become one of those players will score lots of goals for us but he’s going to make us win by not only scoring goals and that’s what we’re trying to teach him. Great players, they all want to score more goals but when you don’t score goals you need to find another way to help your team win. I think with [Monahan], he might go three, four or five games without a goal and we might end up wining those game because he’ll be great on [penalty killing], he’ll be great on faceoffs, his defensive work is becoming better and better so we have lots of confidence in him."
"I’ve got two guys sitting beside me here, I’ll have to take them out.."
- Mark Cundari on the prospect of facing some of his Flames teammates in the AHL playoffs.
The Flames finally conclude their five-game road swing in New Jersey, taking on the Devils at 5:00 PM MST (SNET-W, FAN 960).
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