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Calgary Flames take Morgan Klimchuk, going local in wake of devastating flood

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Morgan Klimchuk (centre) with Flames GM Jay Feaster (left) and coach Bob Hartley (The Associated Press)

NEWARK, N.J. — Considering what his hometown has been through, getting drafted in the first round by the Calgary Flames meant all that much more to Morgan Klimchuk.

Sports, not that you need your millionth and third reminder, are a frivolous thing, but they are part of regaining a sense of normalcy. So it wasn't lost on Klimchuk, the two-way winger from the Regina Pats, that it might be significant that he was drafted by the Flames fewer than two weeks after flooding devastated southern Alberta and damaged the Saddledome.

"A lot of my friends in Calgary were affected," Klimchuk said. "My gym was closed for a couple days. It's been a difficult time for sure, but I've been helping when I can. Any excitement you can get from having a good draft, or a picking a hometown kid, that helps maybe in some small way.

"The town is going through a rough stretch right now but everyone's come together and that's been great to see."

The combo of the Flames having three first-rounders and the draft pool boasting four highly regarded Calgarians meant the odds of a hometown pick were actually better than astronomical.

As it happened, three of the four were drafted by Western Canada-based teams. Prince Albert Raiders offensive defenceman Josh Morrissey went No. 13 to the Winnipeg Jets. Calgary had a shot at No. 22 to take Medicine Hat Tigers captain Hunter Shinkaruk, whose father Dr. Roger Shinkaruk was once team dentist for the Calgary Hitmen, the Flames-owned WHL team. With a lot of the Flames fanbase holding their breath hoping to hear Shinkaruk's name, Calgary instead opted for the Gatineau Olympiques' Émile Poirier.

The Vancouver Canucks took Shinkaruk 24th overall. That was when the less publicized Klimchuk got an inkling he might be the local boy to receive the fiery C.

"It's kind of hard to ignore that they had three first-round picks," said Klimchuk, who's a compact 5-foot-11 and 180 pounds but strives to play an uncomprising two-way game. "I was hoping to be one. Hunter's a very special player and Vancouver's fortunate to have him. When they passed on him, I started to think it was possible."

Shinkaruk had considerably more notice entering the season after a 49-goal, 91-point sophomore season with Medicine Hat, when he regularly collaborated with speedster Emerson Etem. He was the Tigers' leader in all senses with an 86-point year last winter for a young team, but concerns about his play with the puck contributed to his draft stock cooling off. He didn't betray any disappointment on being passed over by Calgary.

"I did drop in the rankings throughout the year, but I'm so excited," the 18-year-old Shinaruk said. "If you told me 10 years ago that I'd go in the first round, I'd have laughed. It would have been cool to go to Calgary, but that's part of the past now. It's up to me to keep working toward the goal. It's happened to me before. I went 14th overall in the [WHL] bantam draft [in 2009].

"My dad has a new favourite team now," Shinakaruk added.

Swift Current Broncos defenceman Dillon Heatherington, another Calgarian, went No. 50 overall to the Columbus Blue Jackets. That was a topper of Klimchuk's draft day, which will take on added meaning if he beats the long odds to become a mainstay for the Flames someday.

"There's a group of us in Calgary that have been playing with and against each other from an early age," Klimchuk added. "It's pretty special."

Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet. Please address any questions, comments or concerns to btnblog@yahoo.ca.

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