Flames’ Valimaki can hardly wait for season: ‘I’ll be rocking when we get going’

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“I think it was the perfect way for me to kind of get into game shape and in the rhythm of playing hockey again,” Valimaki said. “I think it was just really, really helpful for me. I think it was perfect for the team. We had a good team, we won a lot of games, so I think everybody got the best out of it. And I had tons of fun.

“I didn’t even remember how much fun hockey is — playing well, winning games and just doing it every day, doing the things that I’ve desired to do and love to do. So overall, I think that whole situation was perfect.”

For Valimaki, a perfect ending to 2020 would be watching the Finns pull off a victory in Thursday’s round-robin capper against Jakob Pelletier, Connor Zary and the rest of Team Canada.

Regardless of what happens inside the world-junior bubble in Edmonton, the prized defence prospect can hardly wait for 2021 to arrive.

For the first month or so of the 2019-20 season, Valimaki admittedly would be fighting back tears as he watched his buddies go to battle.

The young left-hander will likely start the new slate — the Flames open with a Jan. 14 roadie against the Winnipeg Jets — on the third pair, although he could soon push Noah Hanifin for a top-four gig and perhaps help reduce the workload for captain Mark Giordano.

While he missed out on some valuable game experience due to his extended injury absence, Valimaki says he is now “stronger in my head than I’ve ever been.” In other interviews, he’s even mentioned his aspirations to emerge as a Calder Trophy contender. (With 24 regular-season appearances so far, he’s still eligible for top-rookie honours.)