After appearing in just eight games with the Brandon Wheat Kings during the abbreviated 2020-21 WHL season, Connor Ungar wasn’t overly optimistic regarding his chances of receiving an invitation to an NHL camp.
Then his hometown Calgary Flames came calling.
“It was really exciting obviously,” the Red Deer Rebels netminder said Tuesday. “I was hopeful for an invitation but you never know with the short season, and I didn’t get too many looks.
“The first person who called me was Jason Labarbera, their (Flames’) goalie coach. I have a bit of a personal relationship with him so he reached out to me and kind of gave me the heads up.
“Then I talked to Mike Burke (Flames director of hockey administration) and Ray Edwards (player development) and they confirmed the invite.”
The experience of first attending the Flames prospects camp in September and then being retained for at least a few days of main camp was a dream come true for the 19-year-old.
“My experience with the Flames was unbelievable,” said Ungar. “It was a great way to start the season, getting some confidence with them.
“It was unbelievable to say the least, just the way everyone prepares. And the way you’re treated at that level is next to none for sure. I really enjoyed my time there.”
The fact that it was the Flames who reached out to Ungar was particularly sweet for the Calgary native.
“I grew up watching the Flames and I’ve been at the Saddledome lots,” said Ungar. “I had season tickets growing up and it was pretty cool to be on the other side of the glass there.”
Rebels GM Brent Sutter acquired Ungar from the Wheat Kings in May, with defenceman Mason Ward going the other way.
“At the time it was bittersweet,” said the goaltender. “I had a lot of close relationships in Brandon and enjoyed my time there, but I was really optimistic and looking forward to the future here with Red Deer. It’s been great so far.”
Ungar appeared in seven games with Brandon over the 2018-19 and 2019-20 seasons and in fact spent most of the latter campaign with the Whitecourt Wolverines of the AJHL, recording a 2.58 goals-against average and save percentage of .921.
He guarded the Wheat Kings net on eight occasions during the pandemic shortened 2020-21 season, posting numbers of 2.87 and .903 with a 5-3-2 win-loss record.
Ungar made his Rebels debut Saturday in Lethbridge, where he performed admirably in a 2-1 overtime loss to the Hurricanes, stopping 34 of 36 shots in the process.
“It was good to get the first regular season one out of the way. Lethbridge isn’t an easy barn to go into but I felt like I prepared well and felt good in that game,” he said. “Unfortunately we couldn’t come away with the win, but we got one point.”
Ungar sees a lot of success on the horizon for the Rebels.
“I think we have a great group here,” he said. “We have a lot of depth up front and I really like how well and how hard our D is playing right now.
“That’s the biggest thing I’ve noticed — the depth. We’re going to have a good year.”
The Rebels return to action this weekend, travelling to Calgary Friday for an engagement with the Hitmen and hosting their Highway 2 rivals Saturday at 1 p.m. at the Peavey Mart Centrium in a game to be televised by CBC.
Red Deer will close out a busy three-games-in-three-days slate with a Sunday afternoon contest against the host Edmonton Oil Kings.