Matt Stajan’s connection to the city of Calgary goes beyond the confines of an NHL rink.
Beyond the Scotiabank Saddledome and beyond the flaming ‘C’, Stajan has given back to the city throughout his career and drew strength from fans during his darkest period.
And now his next goal is to help develop and mentor Calgary’s rising superstars while in a bottom-line role.
The longest-tenured of any of Calgary’s forwards, Stajan was a highly touted prospect for his hometown Toronto Maple Leafs following a junior career with the OHL’s Belleville Bulls. Scoring 94 points in his final season of major junior, Stajan also won a silver medal with Team Canada at the 2003 World Juniors in Halifax.
— Matt Stajan (@MattStajan18) June 24, 2016
But after eight seasons in the Leafs system, Stajan never was able to rediscover his offensive touch and was moved to the Flames in a blockbuster trade on January 31, 2010.
Traded alongside defenceman Ian White and forwards Niklas Hagman and Jamal Mayers, Stajan was a key piece Toronto gave up to acquire all-star defender Dion Phaneuf, Freddie Sjostrom, and Keith Aulie.
Signing a four-year contract in the 2010 offseason, Stajan bounced around the Flames’ lineup for years, from a checking forward in Brent Sutter’s system to a more prominent role once Bob Hartley was brought on board.
During this time, he was able to help acclimatize some of Calgary’s younger forwards such as Mikael Backlund and Lance Bouma, a role which he is expected to continue this upcoming season.
With the rise of Sean Monahan and Sam Bennett over the last few years, Stajan has seen his ice time almost cut in half as younger, more skilled forwards pass him on the depth chart. But, that hasn’t stopped the Mississauga, Ontario centreman from stepping up when called upon.
The night was April 25, 2015 at a jam-packed Saddledome in Calgary’s first playoff series in six years.
Hosting the Vancouver Canucks for Game 6 of their opening round series, Calgary trailed by a 3-0 score less than 10 minutes in. Trying to close out the series at home, the Flames rallied back twice to capture the series with a 7-4 victory.
The man who scored the go-ahead goal and eventual series winner, played less than 18 minutes and only had two shots on net. For most players that goal would be a career highlight, the most important goal of their life, but not for Matt Stajan.
During the stretch drive of the 2014-15 campaign a year earlier, Stajan announced he would be leaving the club to join his wife Katie in the birth of the couple’s first child. One week after that announcement, the Flames issued a press release informing fans that Stajan’s son Emerson passed away following childbirth.
The hockey world paused to offer sympathies to the Stajan family, while Matt and Katie issued a statement shortly afterwards thanking Flames fans for their thoughts during their darkest hour.
“We would like to take this opportunity to thank everyone for the incredible outpouring of love and support, during this very difficult time,” said the Stajans. “All of you have touched our lives with your kindness and compassion, and we truly appreciate everyone’s thoughts and prayers. Our son, Emerson, will forever be in all of our hearts. Thank you for taking the time to think of us, and grieve this unbearable loss with us. It means so much, and we are grateful for all of your support.”
Less than a month after his son’s death, Stajan returned to the lineup against the Edmonton Oilers and was awarded a penalty shot in the second period. He didn’t miss.
The Stajans have also been heavily involved in the Calgary community, raising over $100,000 for the Foothills Medical Centre’s neonatal intensive care unit in Emerson’s name, and have also been heavily involved with the Alberta Children’s Hospital and Ronald McDonald House.
For his play on the ice coupled with his community service, Stajan was awarded the Flames’ Ralph T. Scurfield Humanitarian Award following the 2012-13 season.
But for all his community work, the NHL remains a business with forward spots filling up quickly for the Flames ahead of the 2016-17 season.
Earning $3.125 million over the next two seasons, there were rumours of the Flames buying out the 32-year-old veteran but those talks have since subsided.
With seven of their forwards for the upcoming season being 25-years-old or younger, the one-time assistant captain can still carve out a reputation as a reliable, two-way forward with experience to share.
However, with the Las Vegas expansion draft on the horizon, Stajan won’t likely be protected by Calgary with newer acquisitions like Troy Brouwer and Michael Frolik entering the fold. Would it make sense for Las Vegas to select a veteran player with a rich contract to help reach the salary floor for the 2017-18 season?
While Stajan’s future in Calgary is unclear following the conclusion of his current contract, his commitment to the city remains unchanged.
Most recently donning the Flames jersey at the Calgary Stampede with his wife and young son Elliot, and visiting McMahon Stadium to take in a Stampeders game with former Flame Brian McGrattan, Stajan continues to wear his feelings for Calgarians on his sleeve.
Although his role on the ice has been decreased since being acquired on that cold day in 2010, Stajan’s passion for the Flames and the community continues to shine bright.