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Markstrom returns to practice as Vladar’s season comes to early end

Jacob Markstrom Calgary Flames Jacob Markstrom - Jeff Bottari/NHLI via Getty Images

Jacob Markstrom returned to practice with the Calgary Flames on Thursday after missing the previous nine days because of a lower-body injury. The goaltender is expected to start on Saturday against the Vancouver Canucks

“Marky, if everything stays according to plan, will play our next game,” head coach Ryan Huska said following Thursday’s practice.

“It’s a good feeling,” Markstrom said after his first full session with the team in two weeks. “It’s not fun watching games on TV and not being out there battling.”

The Flames deliberated moving Markstrom at the trade deadline, and were reportedly close on a deal with the New Jersey Devils. That public speculation prompted Markstrom to say that the situation, “could have been handled a lot different from up top,” a week before the deadline.

On Thursday, he insisted that he has turned the page.

“It’s been a relief not talking to you [media],” Markstrom said with a grin when asked about the deadline. “We’ve gotta look forward now. Everyone in this room is gonna be here now. I’ve got a contract for two more years and I’m just excited to be back playing.”

News of Markstrom’s nearing return comes on the same day the Flames announced backup goalie Dan Vladar will undergo hip surgery next week and miss the remainder of the season.

That injury opens the door for 22-year-old rookie Dustin Wolf to remain with the Flames for the rest of the season. In the four starts Wolf had during Markstrom’s absence, he has two wins, a 0.931 save percentage and a 2.13 goals-against average. While the circumstances are not ideal, Wolf said he is savouring the chance to focus on his game at the NHL level without the worry of being sent back to the American Hockey League. 

“It’s a good opportunity for myself to be around this locker room, be around these guys, for the next month [and] hopefully more,” Wolf said. “This is a place I want to be as much as I possibly can. I’ve been up and down for the year, so there hasn’t been a whole lot of time to adjust to where my feet are at, and this is definitely the opportunity I’ve been hoping and waiting for.”

Wolf is also embracing the chance to learn from the veteran Markstrom. 

“He’s pretty structured in how he goes about his routines and his days,” Wolf said. “I think any goalie that has a long-tenured career in the league, if you’re not structured, you’re not setting yourself up for the best. That’s exactly what he does. He makes sure he comes to the rink, makes sure his body is in the right condition, and obviously it shows on the ice. He’s been outstanding.”

The 34-year-old Markstrom playfully pushed back when asked if he felt like a mentor to Wolf.

“I feel the same age as my partner, so it’s good,” he said, with a smile. “He’s showing everyone he can stop the puck and he’s played great hockey for years now. I know the transition, it’s a different game. It takes time. For me, it took almost 10 years to figure everything out. You’ve got to play games to get better and to learn. He’s been doing great when he’s come in here for us.”

Markstrom and Wolf both went out of their way to praise Vladar, whose third season in Calgary ends prematurely. The 26-year-old is a constantly upbeat presence in the locker room and with media, always smiling and quick to crack a joke about recent coverage. His presence, not just among the goalies, will be missed.

“He’s a warrior,” said Markstrom. “He’s been battling this for quite some time…seeing what he’s been through the last few years and how he battled and never complained and is always happy, big picture this is a good thing and hopefully he gets some time to recover.”

Wolf spoke about the bond the three have and how they’ve supported one another during a trying season for the team. 

“Goalies are a goalie union for a reason,” Wolf said. “It definitely takes a village.”