CALGARY - Behind the emergence of Calgary Flames winger Michael Ferland in these NHL playoffs is the story of a young man unburdening and healing himself.
Ferland announced on Twitter and also to reporters March 27 that he was marking a year of sobriety. Two days later, he scored his first NHL goal and a game-winner in Nashville.
His confidence on and off the ice, along with his role on the team, has expanded since then. Ferland looks people in the eye when he tells them about a difficult journey to a brighter future.
"A year ago I was in rehab," Ferland said Monday on his 23rd birthday. "I didn't think I'd be playing in the Stanley Cup playoffs right now that's for sure.
"People always told me when I was getting help, 'You'll see your life unfold in front of you. It'll be the best thing for you.' I never really understood it, but now my life is kind of starting to unfold right in front of me now, I'm enjoying it."
In the first three NHL playoff games of his career, the six-foot-two 215-pound Manitoban has been the hardest Flame to play against. He's also finding where the line is between helping and hurting his team.
Ferland was a wrecking ball with eight hits in Sunday's 4-2 win over the Vancouver Canucks. He looked ready to drop the gloves with Derek Dorsett at one point, but thought better of it after incurring a penalty for doing the same in Game 1.
"I don't want to take it too far and cross the line, but at the same time I want to play hard and finish out my hits," Ferland said.
Calgary leads the Western Conference quarter-final series two games to one. Game 4 is at Scotiabank Saddledome on Tuesday followed by Game 5 in Vancouver on Thursday.
A Lance Bouma injury in the last home game of the regular season opened the door for Ferland to play more minutes.
Given the ornery turn in the series, Ferland stepping into the role of gladiator is a welcome addition for the Flames, who won games with speed and fitness during the regular season. Ferland has helped dial up their truculence and intimidation for the post-season.
"Finishing his checks and being hard to play against, he's brought it," linemate David Jones said. "He's really elevated it even beyond what I think we expected.
"He's been a huge key for us, especially last night. He had eight or nine hits, which is great. Hopefully those guys are feeling it a little bit today."
Ferland's contributions have been more than bruises in the playoffs. He assisted on a Jones goal in the first game of the series in addition to his seven hits.
Ferland, Jones and linemate Matt Stajan saw a lot of Vancouver's top line that includes stars Daniel and Henrik Sedin on Sunday. The Sedins were held scoreless with a combined two shots in the game.
Since the Saddledome considers Canucks defenceman Kevin Bieksa a villain in this series, Ferland's willingness to take Bieksa on is making him a folk hero there.
Bieksa said Ferland was "irrelevant" after Game 3. Ferland countered with: "I don't really care what he has to say."
Ferland was born in Swan River but grew up in Brandon where he played for the Western Hockey League's Wheat Kings. His mother Dianne raised him and his two siblings by herself.
Ferland confirmed Monday that Dianne has asked him not to hit the Sedins because she likes them. He says he doesn't feel conflicted, however, when he does.
"If it wasn't for all her sacrifices I wouldn't be here today," Ferland said. "She found a way. There were years where my sister had to work and help her out. I'm really grateful for both of them, that's for sure."
Notes: As the NHL did for Flames defenceman Deryk Engelland in Game 2 of the series, the league rescinded Vancouver's Alex Burrows' instigator penalty in the last five minutes Sunday so there will not be a suspension. ... The Flames recalled goaltender Joni Ortio from Adirondack on Monday.
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