Red Deer Rebels goalie Connor Ungar still lights up at the thought of it.
Ungar got the call of a lifetime in September – his phone buzzed and it was former NHL netminder Jason LaBarbera on the other end, who serves as goalie coach for the Calgary Flames.
The Calgary product was told he’d get a chance to be on the other side of the glass. He earned an invite to Flames Rookie Camp. A dream come true.
“It was really exciting. I was hopeful for an invite, but you never know with the shortened season, I didn’t get too many looks, getting noticed was definitely cool,” Ungar said ahead of Rebels practice Tuesday.
After rookie camp, Ungar also got an invite to main camp and spent a few days there before rejoining the Rebels.
“The experience with the Flames was unbelievable. Great way to start the season, get some confidence with them,” he said.
“It was unbelievable, to say the least, just the way everyone prepares and the way you’re treated is next to none. Really enjoyed my time there.”
Ungar remembers vividly sitting in the stands of the Saddledome as a kid, wondering if one day he’d get the chance to skate on the ice like his favourite players.
“I grew up watching the Flames. I’ve been to the Saddledome lots and lots, had season tickets growing up. It was pretty cool to be on the other side of the glass,” he said.
“(Miikka) Kiprusoff was huge, definitely looked up to him.”
After being traded from the Brandon Wheat Kings to the Rebels this summer, Ungar is eager for an opportunity to grab the starting role and run with it this season.
The 19-year-old took his first shot at grabbing that job over the weekend, suiting up for his first start as a Red Deer Rebel, albeit in an overtime loss.
“It was good to get the first regular-season one out of the way. Lethbridge isn’t an easy barn to go into. Felt like I prepared well and felt good in the game,” said Ungar, who made 34-saves in the OT loss.
Ungar was joined in Calgary for rookie camp by Rebels veteran Ben King, who finally also earned an invite to the NHL Camp. King, 19, said there was so much to learn and absorb over his time in Calgary.
“That was an amazing experience, that’s the goal that everyone wants – get a chance at a camp,” he said.
“It was a good experience all around, just to see what the next level is like and how those pro guys come in every day and how they work.
“On the ice, they don’t miss passes, they’re flying around and communicating. The best on the business. Just all eye-opening and really cool to see.”
King, who is off to a strong start this season, leading the Rebels with two goals and two assists in five games. He said the experience at his first NHL camp has been a huge motivator early in the year.
“Super motivating. Take a few things from there and bring it here and apply it. Get that confidence coming back. It’s nice for sure,” he said.
King will lead the Rebels into a time-honoured junior hockey tradition over the weekend when the team gets set to play three games in three days.
They’ll battle the Calgary Hitmen Friday in Calgary, before turning around and playing less than 16 later in a nationally televised game on CBC against Calgary.
“That’ll be pretty exciting. You don’t get those too often, maybe once a year if you’re lucky. So it’ll be pretty cool to be on TV and a lot of friends and family will be watching all these guys, it’ll be exciting,” King said.
The Rebels will round out the weekend with their third game in three days on Sunday against the Edmonton Oil Kings in Edmonton.