Ryan Dittrick – 02.05.24

For a player, nothing beats the roar of the crowd.

Make it a full house, mix in a little face paint, food-and-drink deals and a healthy dose of playoff fever, and boy, the volume really gets cranked up then.

It’s not just about noise, a competitive advantage and protecting your home turf.

There’s something to be gained on the development side, too.

As the Calgary Wranglers continue their Calder Cup quest with Games 1 and 2 of their Pacific Division semifinal series this weekend, Flames captain Mikael Backlund is hoping the C of Red turns out to support the stars of tomorrow.

“If Flames fans can come out and cheer on our future Flames fans, that would help these kids, for sure, playing in front of a big crowd,” Backlund said. “To make plays and all those split-second decisions with a loud crowd behind you, it’s completely different than the building is empty and quiet. That would be a great experience for these guys.

“I definitely encourage fans to come to the games this weekend. It should be really fun for everyone – and I’m especially excited for these kids, because if we can get a lot of fans here, it would be great experience for them to perform better and not only give them a boost for a long run, but become better prepared for when we’re playing playoff games with the Flames.”

Wranglers Playoff Tickets

Secure your seats for the 2024 Calder Cup Playoffs and come cheer on the Flames of tomorrow!

And Backlund would know best.

In 2010, he got the same chance to kickstart his pro career with a batch of meaningful playoff games, helping the Abbotsford Heat knock off the Rochester Americans in a seven-game slugfest, before dropping their second-round series to the Hamilton Bulldogs in six.

He was only 20 at the time and had a strong showing in 23 games with the Flames at the tail end of the NHL season, but returned to the farm and was instrumental in the club’s playoff run, recording nine points (1G, 8A) in 13 appearances.

The experience, he says, was invaluable and really helped set the table for the upcoming campaign, which turned out to be his first full calendar at the NHL level.

“We played some really good teams,” he said, crediting a Bulldogs team that featured the likes of P.K. Subban and Max Pacioretty. “It was such a great experience for me and helped me prepare for the next season. And honestly, one of the biggest keys was playing longer into the spring, because that’s what we all work toward at this level. If you’re better prepared to handle that – beyond just the regular season – it makes the adjustment to the NHL easier down the road.”


Coronato had 42 points (15G, 27A) in 41 regular season games. He already has two points (1G, 1A) in two playoff games

The skipper – who’s already begun his off-season training regimen – vows that if the Wranglers go all the way, he, too, will be on hand at the ‘Dome cheering on the Flames’ up-and-comers.

But for now, he’s most eager to see how the lads utilize this key development time, beginning on Friday against the top-seeded Coachella Valley Firebirds (Seattle Kraken).

Eight players on the Wranglers playoff roster spent time with the Flames this year, including four – Matt Coronato, Adam Klapka, Ilya Solovyov and Dustin Wolf – who starred in key roles down the stretch and were especially impactful in helping the Flames win three of their final four outings.

Backlund smiles when asked to recall those moments now.

From the 6-foot-8 Klapka scoring his first-career goal (and famously “spitting” in MacKenzie Weegar’s face during his intense goal celly), to Coronato surging with confidence and Wolf shutting the door and coming oh-so close to his first-career shutout in a dominant season finale, this is what Flames fans have to look forward to.

The future.

Right here, in our own backyard.


Wolf won his last four starts with the Flames and enters Round 2 with a .966 save percentage in the playoffs

“I was really happy for Klapper,” Backlund said of the big man’s top-shelf snipe vs. San Jose. “He’s such a good guy and has worked really hard to get a shot in the NHL. You should see how excited he was. I thought he played really well that whole game.

“Wolfie… what can you say?

“I thought he played really well that last game. Going back a year earlier when he made his debut, he played really well that night, too. Same opponent, which is kind of funny. But the confidence he showed a year later was very impressive. He’s been unbelievable in the AHL, but you can tell he’s been growing and learning in the NHL, too. He’s still such a young goalie, and the NHL is such a hard league, but you could definitely see the potential and how bright of a future he has ahead when he was up here.”

As captain of the Flames, Backlund had a message for everyone when they returned to the Wranglers at the conclusion at the NHL season.

And you can imagine – with nearly 1,000 games to his name in the franchise record books – a proclamation like this would certainly hold sway:

“Enjoy it. Go out there, have fun, and play your best. You guys have a chance to do something special.

“You can tell it’s a great group down there. So, push. Push hard and go all the way.

“Why not?!”