Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Calder coup no longer a consideration

Jets blue-liner concerns himself with sticking around awhile longer

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It was just the other day that defenceman Mark Flood was leafing through the newspaper and spied a small item that officially slammed the door shut on any consideration he might have received for the Calder Trophy as the National Hockey League's top rookie.

Yes, it was pointed out that by NHL law to be considered a rookie, a player 'must not have played in more than 25 NHL games in any preceding seasons, nor in six or more NHL games in each of any two preceding seasons. And any player at least 26 years of age (by Sept. 15 of that season) is not considered a rookie.'

Flood, for the record, played six games in the show for the New York Islanders back in 2009-10 and turned 27 on Sept. 29.

So, worry not Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Matt Read, Craig Smith or Gabriel Landeskog.

And, oh, just so we're clear, one more point to clarify: Flood -- a likable sort who hails from Charlottetwon, PEI -- finds all this more than a little amusing. In fact, a guy who has spent the last six winters bouncing from places like Syracuse to Dayton, from Albany to Bridgeport and from the Manitoba Moose to the St. John's IceCaps to Winnipeg, isn't the least bit consumed about picking up NHL hardware.

Earning a regular NHL paycheque is an entirely different matter.

"I read the other day that I'm not classified a rookie because I'm too old," he said with a sly grin. "I got a chuckle out of that. But it's true... I am an older guy but I am a rookie, really. I never played a whole lot in the league before. It is kind of a weird feeling because a lot of the guys in the room, the go-to guys, are younger than me.

"But it is what it is."

What it is, is this: when Flood looks around the Jet dressing room he sees players like Andrew Ladd, Zach Bogosian, Alex Burmistrov, Evander Kane, Eric Fehr, Bryan Little, Ondrej Pavelec, Blake Wheeler, Dustin Byfuglien and Tobias Enstrom. All of them are younger and all of them have considerably more NHL experience -- Flood's total is now 14 games and counting -- than the former Montreal Canadiens draft pick (sixth round, 2003).

Where Flood's goal might once have been to become an NHL superstar -- that's the goal of every kid who pulls on a jersey on draft day, after all -- his intention now is simply to stick with the Jets and help make a significant contribution to the blueline. And the early reviews are all positive: through eight games Flood has potted three goals, added an assist and is a respectable plus-2.

"I definitely feel I can play here, but I'm not the kind of guy that is going to take anything for granted," said Flood. "Ron (Hainsey) is coming back now and guys are starting to get healthy, so we'll see what happens. I think maybe when I was younger you expect things to happen a little bit more easier for you. You're drafted, you come up and as soon as you get drafted or sign with someone you think you're going to play in the NHL. But that's not always the case. You see guys play in the minors their whole life. It takes timing and getting an opportunity. It's tough to stick. It's a tough league to make.

"You know," Flood added, "I remember this summer I was thinking, 'Geez, if I don't make it soon I don't know what's going to happen.' But there's always going to be opportunities as long as you're a good teammate and a good person."

Flood's biggest fan in the organization, it's worth noting, might be one of the most important: head coach Claude Noel, who had Flood last year with the Moose. His biggest challenge now, both men admit, is to find some consistency and keep the hunger.

"Sometimes if you have an ego that can be a dangerous thing because then you start separating your shoulders trying to pat yourself on your back," said Noel. "And then, before you know it, you're playing in another league.

"It's smart that he focuses on the task."

Flood has done that and then some.

"I'm trying to live for the moment," Flood said.

ed.tait@freepress.mb.ca Twitter: @WFPEdTait

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 23, 2011 C4

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