Beaming sunshine on a 75-degree day amidst a line of palm trees–hard to beat that for a first day of work.
Just a few months ago, rookie roommates, Mason Morelli and Corey Schueneman strolled into Stockton Arena last March following their four-year collegiate careers.
Today, just months removed from signing American Hockey League amateur try out agreements with the Stockton Heat together on March 22, the duo walked into the Calgary Flames’ WinSport practice facility looking to turn heads.
The path to get to Calgary for rookie training camp is strikingly similar: born in the Midwest, four years in the National Collegiate Hockey Conference of the NCAA, college captains, signed with Stockton on the exact same day, inked to American Hockey League deals for 2019-20 and attended Flames development and rookie camps.
Beyond the journey to get to Calgary, their playing styles stem from the same philosophy: hard and simple.
Albeit cliche, it is working for the duo.
Morelli, the University of Nebraska-Omaha graduate, scored three goals, four points and an impressive +7 rating in nine games with Stockton last spring.
“They are guys that faired well with us last year and Morelli showed some really good hockey sense,” said Stockton Heat Head Coach, Cail MacLean. “He is responsible with the puck and reliable away from the puck. He had a really good finish with us and he impressed people up here in Calgary and Stockton”
Schueneman, the 6-foot, 200-lb. rearguard skated in six games last season with Stockton after finishing his collegiate career with Western Michigan.
They scored their first professional goals in back to back games last April. Scheuneman, in just his third pro game, walked the puck high from the below the goal to snipe shortside at Bell MTS Place, the home of the Winnipeg Jets top affiliate.
“It was great to get those games [in Stockton] to get some experience, get some playing time, get a feel for the speed, the competitiveness of the next level,” said Schueneman following Monday’s practice at WinSport.
Three nights later it was Morelli’s turn. Right spot at the right time for the rookie as he poked home Matthew Phillips’ shot.
Naturally, Schueneman jumped on the chance to take a friendly jab at scoring his first goal before his road roommate. Morelli would have the last laugh on their ongoing banter by scoring goals in Stockton’s final three contests last spring.
The chirping and competitive nature is exactly what Cail MacLean is looking for. Internal competition and trying to out work the guy right next to you.
“It is very important to create that competition. These guys are coming in and they want to make their way into the fold and makes themselves legit prospects and earn contracts from Calgary,” said MacLean.
Competition is the easy part. The hard part? Turning heads.
You have to start somewhere and both Morelli and Schuneman are taking steps in the right direction. Schueneman played alongside Andrew Nielsen on the Flames’ top pairing in Saturday night’s 1-0 win over the Edmonton Oilers.
“He has elite skating ability and that is something in today’s game is so valuable. He looks like he has progressed physically, but I think he was already in a pretty good spot there,” said MacLean.
Morelli skated alongside centerman Milos Roman and Stockton-bound, Jeremy McKenna. Morelli is eager to get another game under his belt to showcase his development on Tuesday night when the Flames host the Oilers at the Scotiabank Saddledome.
The bright lights of the Dome shouldn’t overwhelm the University of Nebraska Omaha graduate who spent part of the summer training with the Calgary Flames staff while living with Heat teammate Rob Hamilton.
“It was definitely really good to be around all the Flames guys and staff,” said Morelli. “They prepare you so well and treat you so well and they give you a great taste of it and you want to do everything you can to make [the NHL].”
Schueneman recognizes the pressure that some might feel in he and Morelli’s shoes as undrafted players, but he views it as an opportunity to play with a chip on his shoulder.
“Bringing that into camp it is obviously another step up, everyone is trying to make a team, everyone is trying to impress, it is just that more competitive,” said Schueneman.
Morelli and Schueneman are two of the eight players at the Flames’ annual Prospect Camp that played with Stockton last season. Between September’s Prospect Camp and Development Camp skates in July there is a core group of Flames youngsters that are going through all the checkpoints together.
“Going through it with [Morelli] has been nice,” said Schueneman. We came in at the same time, came in from college both doing four years so we can relate on that. It has been nice having that familiarity around at the first few days at camp.”
Familiarity is nice, but both these players know the challenge that lies ahead.
And the Calgary Flames Prospect Camp bench boss is there to remind them this week.
“The world doesn’t wait, it is a show me now business.”
“These guys from college are coming in a very mature manner and they have learned how to train and take care of themselves so they can hit the ground running.”