Calgary Flames assistant coach Kirk Muller remembers when youth hockey started to develop in Dallas.
Blake Coleman was five or six when the Dallas Stars were born. He was probably 12 when Muller joined the Stars to finish his NHL playing career.
On Monday, Coleman — a product of Plano, Texas, played his 400th regular-season game. And it was a beauty.
The 30-year-old winger had a pair of assists and a key empty-net goal to help the Calgary Flames beat the Philadelphia Flyers in Philly 5-2.
“It shows our game has really grown. You’ve got Texans playing 400 games in the NHL. That’s pretty special,” Muller told media post-game after he came out in head coach Darryl Sutter’s place. “When I was in Dallas, you saw the rinks being built and the kids playing hockey there. He’s an example of those kids that have come up now and made the NHL. Not only for a few games, to play 400 games is quite an honour.
“And he had a heck of a game to finish that 400 games. It’s a nice memorable game for him.”
Heck of a game. Probably his best of the season. In one night, Coleman tripled his point production. His effort was immense, and his timing impeccable.
He set up Jonathan Huberdeau’s goal less than five minutes in to give the Calgary Flames the first goal in an important road contest. Coleman forced a turnover just inside his own blueline and the puck went right to Huberdeau. The two raced up the ice with only one defender between them.
Coleman played decoy as Huberdeau picked a corner on Carter Hart.
On the Flames’ second goal, Coleman scooped up a loose puck around the same spot and dished it to Dillon Dube. Then he took advantage of the opportune time for a line change and left the rest to Dube and Nikita Zadorov, who found themselves on another two-on-one.
Dube did the same as Huberdeau and shot the puck past Hart.
Passes be damned.
In the third period with the Flyers pressing for the tying goal with Hart on the bench for an extra attacker, Coleman snuffed out their hopes with an empty netter from miles away. He spun off the boards just above the hash marks in his own zone and nailed the centre of the open cage to give the Flames some breathing room with less than two minutes to play.
It was one of those rare nights all the hard work Coleman does on the boards and in his open ice checking game that paid off with obvious metrics.
“He was good. It’s been good playing with these guys,” said Huberdeau, who’s looked good on a line with Coleman and Mikael Backlund the past couple of games. “I think Colesie, 400 games, that’s pretty cool. To cap it off like this, it’s awesome. He works really hard.”
That’s his trademark. Hard work got him from the USHL to Miami University, then the Albany Devils before their NHL affiliate in New Jersey gave him his big break. Coleman rewarded them with a pair of 20-goal seasons before one and a half campaigns and two Stanley Cups with the Tampa Bay Lightning.
The Calgary Flames brought him in as a big-ticket free agent in 2021. Expectations were high, and while his 16 goals might have fallen shy of them, his work ethic and defensive efforts were appreciated — and a big part of why the Flames accomplished what they did in one of the franchise’s best regular seasons in history.
Goals have been hard to come by this year, too. And that makes Monday night’s milestone contest even more magical during his birthday week.
“It’s great. We were joking I made it there before 31,” said Coleman, who turns 31 next Monday. “It’s not the traditional path to get to 400 but I’m extremely proud to get to play this many games in this league. It’s the best league in the world. To be rewarded with a good night and most importantly two wins here on the road, it’s nice.”
You get the feeling there’s more nights like this in store for Coleman if these line combinations stick for a while. Huberdeau’s playmaking skillset adds another layer of danger to the possession duo of Coleman and Mikael Backlund.
“They’re good players, they play hard both ways,” Coleman said of his linemates. “Huby’s a really good rush player and me and Backs are a little more north/south — turn some pucks over and get us a little more zone time, possession, things like that.
“It’s easy to mesh when you’ve got good players on your line. I think we’re still learning each other a little bit but I liked our game. I think it’s another stepping stone.”