For a few days there last week, the new guy, David Schlemko, was a Twitter sensation. In his first game with the Calgary Flames, as a shootout in Boston drifted into the eighth round, coach Bob Hartley turned to his newest recruit to break the tie.
What happened next was a thing of beauty – a variation of the shootout goal Peter Forsberg scored for Sweden to win the 1994 men's Olympic gold. Suddenly, #TheSchlemko was trending in Canada; replays of Schlemko's brazen inside-outside move drew oohs and aahs throughout cyberspace. Hartley joked that the goal should be featured on a stamp, just as Forsberg's was, and sure enough, a stamp parody magically appeared the next morning, courtesy of Reddit.
It was Schlemko's welcome-to-Calgary moment and it couldn't have come at a better time. The Flames took two points off the Bruins that night, and three more in the final two games of that road trip.
But the business of hockey never rests, especially not for a team in a tight playoff race, so on Tuesday, during the Flames' first practice back home, Schlemko stayed out late to work with Hartley, his first real opportunity to get briefed on the system and how the coaches imagine him fitting in from here on.
Thanks to a long-standing friendship with fellow defenceman Kris Russell, the one thing Schlemko knew already was the Flames don't care all that much about a player's pedigree, as long as he produces results.
For Schlemko, it's an opportunity to get his career back on track after being waived twice this season – first by the Arizona Coyotes, then by the Dallas Stars. Calgary claimed him, in part to fill in for the injured Mark Giordano.
Now 27, Schlemko looked as if he was going to be a big part of the Coyotes' future a few years back, until injuries knocked him off track. "You get hurt and some young guy comes up and gets a chance and looks good," Schlemko said. "It's just part of the business. Every time you get a chance to jump in and take a new role, you've got to take a hold of that."
According to Hartley, practice time in Calgary gives Schlemko "a feel for how this organization is being run, from top to bottom. This is our house. He was great on the road."
"Obviously, that shootout goal was a big confidence-builder for him," Hartley added. "It's easy to get accepted by the group when you score a game-winner like this. Now, with Gio hurt, we can't give 30 minutes to one guy. It has to be distributed. For Schlempy, for Rafa Diaz, for Deryk Engelland, this is an opportunity to grab more minutes and more responsibility. Whoever wants it, it's sitting there."
After amassing nine of a possible 14 points on the trip, the Flames are home to play Anaheim Wednesday. The Ducks happened to be the visitors during the Flames' previous home game and completely outclassed the home team that night.
"It's non-stop," Hartley said of the pressure to keep winning and stay ahead of the Los Angeles Kings and San Jose Sharks in the Pacific Division standings. "We attained a goal we set on the road, and then you look ahead and say, 'We have to crank it up again.' This has been fun. We feel the excitement in this city. Now, we have a pretty good homestand, so let's take advantage of it."
Schlemko grew up in Edmonton cheering for the Oilers, but says that's a distant memory.
"I've been around the league long enough now that that's long gone. It might be a little tougher for family and friends to cheer for the Flames, but they'll come around. For me, I'm happy to be back in Alberta, in a hockey market, in a playoff race. It's just exciting right now."
Hartley used Schlemko in the shootout again Sunday in Ottawa, but he opted to go with a different move, in part because #TheSchlemko had received so much notoriety. Alas, his shot rang off the post and stayed out.
Still, having such a memorable debut was important to Schlemko. "It was a good way to kick things off and be able to contribute right away," he said. "I didn't anticipate it was going to blow up that much, but it was pretty cool. Lots of calls and messages from people back in Alberta. It was crazy.
"Coming from places like Phoenix and Dallas that aren't big hockey markets, it's pretty cool to see that. It makes you realize where you are right away."