Flames rookie Connor Mackey aims to follow father into NHL spotlight

CALGARY, AB – As a youngster, Connor Mackey received some advice from one of the original leaders of the Calgary Flames.

Connor’s father, Dave, reached the big leagues as a tough-as-nails forward and is a proud member of the Chicago Blackhawks alumni. When the old-timers in the Windy City would congregate for family-friendly holiday scrimmages, Dave would often bring his twin boys along.

“Here’s a story for you … Do you remember Phil Russell, the old captain of the Flames? I think he was No. 5,” Dave said over the phone from Tower Lakes, Ill. “I remember one time our alumni was skating, and he and Connor were D partners. I think Connor was, like, eight years old at the time. They came off and Phil gave him heck. He was like, ‘Hey, you’ve gotta move that puck to me a little quicker.’ ”

Dave chuckles.

“I always tell Phil, ‘I actually think he was looking you off,’ ” he continued. “But Connor goes, ‘Jeez Dad, I guess I have to move the puck a little quicker.’ And I said, ‘Yeah, you might want to listen to that guy.’ ”

Indeed, Russell was a pretty good resource for an up-and-coming rearguard. He belongs to the NHL’s silver-stick club and played a five-season chunk of his 1,000-plus games with the Atlanta/Calgary Flames, serving as alternate captain when the franchise moved north and then having the ‘C’ stitched on his jersey from 1981-83.

Now 24, freshly signed out of the collegiate ranks and hoping to be tapped for his own NHL debut sometime soon, Connor is these days trying to learn as much he can from the current leader of the Flames. In a nice bit of symmetry, Mark Giordano wears No. 5, too.

Giordano, apparently, has been impressed. At the outset of training camp, based on what he’d witnessed in small-group skates, he singled out the rookie pro as a guy who “looks like he’s pretty close to being ready to play.”

When a not-long-ago Norris Trophy winner makes a comment like that, it gets back to the newcomer pretty quick.

“That was cool to hear, for sure,” Connor said.

The Flames’ coaching staff must be impressed, too, with what their prized college free-agent signing has shown since the team opened camp last weekend.

They’ve now rearranged their groups, with all of the everyday NHLers lumped together in the morning wave. Mackey is the only guy in those star-studded sessions who has yet to log action at the highest level. It is, he admitted, “definitely a confidence-booster” to be keeping that sort of company.