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Monday, October 21, 2002
Drury-Leopold: Calgary's fabulous (Hobey) Baker boys

By George Johnson
Special to ESPN.com

Jordan Leopold grins, clearly enamored by everything Chris Drury has done. He rattles off Drury's accomplishments, at times sounding more like his agent than his new teammate.

Jordan Leopold isn't the only Hobey Baker Award winner on the Flames.
Winning pitcher in the Little League World Series. NCAA champion. Hobey Baker recipient. Calder Trophy winner. Stanley Cup champion.

"He's done it all, in an unbelievably short period of time," said Leopold, the Hobey Baker winner himself last year. "I know all the guys on our team at Minnesota would look at what he'd done, in college and in the pros, and kind of go 'Wow! I'd love to accomplish half that!' He was really the one guy in recent years to break the mold that the Hobey Baker was kind of a last hurrah for college players.

"Chris Drury showed you could be the star in U.S. college hockey and then a star in the NHL. That made an impact on all of us. There are a lot of college guys here, actually -- (Blake) Sloan, Chuck Kobasew, Craig Conroy, myself, Chris Clark ... and now Drury.

"So, yeah, to be on the same team with him now is really kind of fun. But ... I really don't want to bug him. I'm sure we'll sit down one day and swap college stories over a few pops of, uh ... ginger ale."

The Flames are counting on the communication between their two highest-profile new recruits going beyond a couple of snoot-fulls of Canada Dry.

The Fabulous (Hobey) Baker Boys are expected to spend a lot of time on the ice getting to know one another -- as point men on the Flames power play and, naturally enough, in 5-on-5 situations.

The 22-year-old Leopold, an NCAA champion a year ago with Minnesota, and the 26-year-old Drury, one himself at Boston University a few seasons back, represent the hope management is attempting to sell to a increasingly disillusioned southern Alberta public.

"Chris Drury is a winner; he understands what it takes to get through the difficult patches in a season, in a game," Flames general manager Craig Button said. "I equate it to being a parent during a thunderstorm and your kids are afraid, they're huddling in bed, the blankets pulled up tight. You know there's no danger from the thunder and lightning outside, you've been through the experience before and they trust you, so you can convince them everything's going to be OK.

"That's the way it is with having won before."

Until he was coldcocked by a Daniel Clearly shoulder to the chin during an exhibition game at Skyreach Centre, Leopold's poise had been the talk of Calgary's training camp. His quality was apparent from the outset. While other defensive hopefuls desperately clattered the puck off the glass, trying not to look bad, the kid from Golden Valley, Minn., was taking the extra second to outlet the puck, trying to look good. The assuredness belied those 22 years. It was easy to understand how he could've piled up 97 points his final two college seasons.

Such was Leopold's almost immediate impact that the Flames went ahead and dealt Derek Morris, their incumbent offensive-type defenseman, to the powerful Colorado Avalanche in a ground-shaking five-player transaction. Coming Calgary's way were checking center Stephane Yelle and, as fate would have it, one Chris Drury.

"I wouldn't say Jordan's play convinced us to make the trade," corrects Button. "Because we felt the trade was beneficial to our team, regardless. We would've made it anyway. Let's just say Jordan's potential to soak up some of the minutes we lost in giving up Derek, and in playing him in similar situations as Derek, helped us go forward on it."

Drury's role has yet to be determined. Coach Greg Gilbert still hasn't quite figured out whether to deploy him on the left side of the top line featuring Art Ross winner Jarome Iginla and Craig Conroy or at center on a second line. A total lack of a productive second scoring unit (the Iginla line connected for 100 goals last season, everyone else 101) proved to the most glaring weakness as the Flames failed to qualify for the playoffs for a sixth consecutive season.

"I can't honestly say I feel totally comfortable yet," concedes Drury. "But I guess that's natural. The trade was my first look at the business side of the game.

"It was a shock to the system."

Leopold can empathize. The Cleary jolt was a shock to his system. He made his NHL regular-season debut Saturday at Chicago amd should be ready to go as the road trip continues in Detroit and, as fate would have it, Minnesota. But Calgary doctors weren't taking any chances after the concussion.

Chris (Drury), as everyone knows, is already a special player. And we fully believe that Jordan (Leopold), given time, can be one, too.
Craig Button,
Flames GM

"Everybody learns lessons in this game," says Flames special assistant to the GM and former NHL defenceman Al MacNeil. "And one of the most basic, the most valuable, is to keep your head up, not put yourself in a vulnerable position.

"What happened to Jordan happens to almost everyone. It happened to Gordie Howe. Once. A skull fracture early in his career. The thing was, it never happened again as long as he played, which was for decades."

The Cleary hit certainly was a welcome wagon calling card to the big leagues.

"My thought processes," agrees Leopold ruefully, "were a little slow. No, really slow."

Now Leopold is ready to discover what the next phase of his hockey career holds.

"Winning the Hobey was a great honor," he said. "It's something I look back on with pride. Honestly, last year was so good I could've quit the game a happy man. But I've moved on. New challenges are out there for me, for the team I play for. People in the U.S. recognize the achievement an NCAA title represents; people in Canada aren't quite so up on it. But the Stanley Cup ... that's the granddaddy of them all. Everybody everywhere knows what a big deal the Stanley Cup is."

If the Flames are ever going to take another run at the playoffs, much less a championship, a large part will doubtless be played by Leopold and Drury, The Fabulous (Hobey) Baker Boys.

"Chris, as everyone knows, is already a special player," says Button. "And we fully believe that Jordan, given time, can be one, too."

George Johnson of the Calgary Herald is a regular contributor to ESPN.com.