We are now well into the 2014/2015 rendition of the National
Hockey League’s regular season, and things around the Calgary, Alberta based
team is far rosier than anyone – aside from the apparently brilliant Aaron
Ward – could have ever predicted.
The Calgary Flames are listed under “Pacific
Division” not “Wild Card” in the Standings and everything seems
to be going right for them. They seem to be rolling on Colorado-like luck with
the successful empty net pulls with 3 minutes to go and all the third period
comebacks, but hey, I’m sure not complaining. It’s been a heck of a ride.
The great things on the ice have been well documented by
just about everyone around the team from just about every angle, and even media
from outside of the city who haven’t touched a story based on an Alberta team –
outside of draft news – in nearly a decade are starting to take notice.
But what I’d like to talk about are the great Flames related
things happening off the ice so far this season, that are only enhancing this euphoria.
It’s tough to imagine a departure from a Peter Maher
anchored radio play-by-play broadcast being awfully smooth and without
complaint, but “new kid on the block” Derek Wills has filled the Hall
of Famer’s shoes admirably (you can never really fill Peter Maher’s shoes, but
you get what I’m saying).
Sure, it’s a different style, but alongside the rejuvenated
Peter Loubardias, they’ve made a dynamite duo so far. The knowledge of
“Loubo” is second to none and the smooth delivery of the on-ice
happenings from Wills makes the broadcast a pleasure to listen to.
Many, myself included, were concerned that the Flames
wouldn’t be the only thing that stunk this season, but Wills and Loubardius
have quickly put our worries of that to rest, knowing our beloved radio broadcasts
are still in very good hands. Funny enough, neither have stunk to this point in
On the television side, Rob Kerr and Charlie Simmer took a
ton of Twitter heat in recent years on the way they delivered their play-by-play
broadcasts. The cliche-saturated Simmer was especially ridiculed for his
“moving your feet” catch phrase. Personally, I liked them both, but a
change in direction wasn’t the worst thing in the world.
Well, after a chunk of games under the Rick Ball and Kelly
Hrudey led telecasts, “the worst thing in the world” would be a something
of an understatement, because they too have been excellent. Ball’s skillful,
even-keeled delivery and Hrudey’s observations make it feel like Hockey Night
every night, and I loved the HNIC broadcasts. If only TSN could do the
intermission shows, and we’d be in hockey telecast heaven (on that note, the
“analysis” from “Canada’s
deepest roster of insiders” is a total and complete joke. Go
back to tennis, Cox).
Sure some will have their beef with the broadcasters on both
platforms, you can never please everyone, but a quarter or so games into the
season, I think it’s pretty safe to say the rebuild – err, sorry, “retool” – on
the broadcast side of things has gone exceedingly well – at least regionally.
The jury is still out on the national telecasts, excluding the magnificent Bob
Cole (side note: Did you know Bob Cole is 81 years old? Good lord. What an
impressive individual, indeed).
“Earned, Never Given” was on shaky ground after the last cuts
from Flames training camp were made, but after the injury bug took a hearty
bite from the team’s core, I think it’s safe to say we all believe again. Josh
Jooris, Markus Granlund, Michael Ferland, Sven Baertschi and Max Reinhart were
all called up in fairly rapid succession as the injuries started piling up, and
their call-ups, I think we can all agree, were in order of merit.
On the same token, Reinhart was sent down Friday in favour
of Corban Knight, who earned himself an NHL shot with Adirondack
whilst Reinhart did nothing in his time with the big club to inspire them to
keep him. For those harping on the Setoguchi experiment to end, I think he
stays solely because you can sit him whenever. If you call up a youngster in
his place, you’d want to play the kid not have him sit out. I’m sure if he
continues his ghost impersonations for much longer, he’ll get Bourqued.
Back to the “Earned, Not Given” business, there may
have been outrage initially, but to see management stick to their word,
especially with the first call-up of Jooris, is somewhat relieving. Flames fans
were fed a steady diet of rhetoric from former GM Jay Feaster, without an awful
lot of promises being kept. It was all politics.
Sure, Josh Jooris wasn’t exactly the “sexy” call-up or
wasn’t a household name – or any name – before he blew the doors down in
training camp, but he most deserved to be at the front of the recall line, and has
since forgotten about the doors and just torn the entire house down. Relied on
in all situations, Jooris has quickly become one of Bob Hartley’s favourites
and is turning himself into a legit NHLer.
Jooris isn’t the only one taking advantage of his call up,
with Markus Granlund all but ensuring he remains a Flame when the injured
players begin to file back into the lineup. I only wish Baertschi could find
his way to consistency. A feeling of hopelessness with the 22 year old seems to
growing game by game.
There was a time, not too long ago, when the Flames’ vets were
beginning to stink up the joint, but wouldn’t be pulled from the line-up,
regardless the situation. When the injury bug bit, the kids who were recalled
actually improved the team, but sure enough as soon as the underachieving vets
and their cachet were healthy enough to be slow in an actual game, the kids
went down the Flames returned to painful mediocrity. That doesn’t appear to be
the case anymore, especially with the treasure chest of depth waiting in Adirondack. If you’re underachieving, Hartley will let
you stew over it in the press box. Simple as that. We’ll see, however, just how
true that theory is in the not too distant future when the regulars begin to
get healthy again.
Perhaps the toughest element to get an extended glance at
about this group is their attitude off the ice. But my feeling is that this
group of guys genuinely like each other, and genuinely care about each other.
The military-like seriousness maintained in the late stages of the Jarome
Iginla era seem to be exorcized for the most part, and while the playoff goals
and dedication to the job remain, it just seems like they’re having much more
fun with it.
By now, the majority of Flames fans have seen the Johnny
Gaudreau gaffe in the Flames’ support video for the Stampeders ahead of their
CFL Western Final game. When Gaudreau mistakenly added a ‘go’ to the end of the
scripted “Go Stamps” cheered unanimously by the team, they erupted in laughter.
McGrattan jokingly fed Gaudreau – who was wearing a Stamps
helmet (hilariously I might add) – a couple of his patented right hooks
(closest he’s come to fighting so far this year) as the rest of the group
chuckled behind him. Jonas Hiller’s reaction bordered on hysterical laughter,
and to me that says it all. The new guys have integrated into the dressing room
and the atmosphere is light and positive. As the pre-rebuild teams that were
mired in mediocrity proved: having a tense and stressful environment solves
nothing. When the puck is on your stick with 5 seconds left and you need a goal
to tie, that stick is gripped a little tighter and the thought of messing up
and having to face your teammates is given more time. The #FindAWayFlames (patented
by Peter Loubardias) would have a much tougher time finding a way.
To further exemplify the camaraderie in the room, I go back
to the win against the Ottawa Senators at home on the 15th of
November. Following that game, the entire team went out to Cowboys Nightclub to
celebrate. And when I say the whole team, I mean the WHOLE team. Among the
regulars such as Monahan and Gaudreau, were the injured players like Backlund,
Colborne (sporting a soft cast on his wrist) and the then injured Michael
Ferland. Being on the active roster wasn’t even the prerequisite, as future
Flame Sam Bennett – presumably in town for a check-up with team doctors
– was enjoying drinks with his future teammates. That’s how you build a bond in
your dressing room and hammer home the “one for all and all for one” mentality.
I don’t know how those mediocre groups celebrated big wins,
but I’m guessing there wasn’t an awful lot of partying. Everyone was far too
tied up in the pressures of meeting their lofty expectations.
While focus and dedication to the goal is paramount, it’s also
important to celebrate your accomplishments along the way, not just save it all
until the final goal – of making the playoffs, in the Flames case – is met,
because if you don’t manage to achieve it, you’re left with nothing. You may
have had big wins along the way, but they get overshadowed and forgotten by the
Looking back on a season and labeling it a complete
disappointment because the crown jewel of goals wasn’t accomplished is no way
to grow as a team and as an organization.
Even if this group misses on their goal to make the playoffs
this season, they’ll look back on this year and remember all the positives and
successes they did have and celebrated with each other. Then next year, they’ll
come back hungrier and stronger as a team in their hunt to secure that coveted
The positives have been plentiful on the ice this season in Calgary, and the buzz
around the team is as high as it’s been in recent memory. But if you take a
step back and look at the whole picture, the rehabilitation of successful
hockey in Calgary
is certainly trending in the right direction – fast.
The on-ice product is being passed along by an excellent
crew of broadcasters on both major platforms, and that product is being managed
by a very capable and smart hockey ops team.
Brad Treliving’s comments on the Fan 960 this past week of
“staying the course” and “not making moves to improve this team
by sacrificing the future” inspires much confidence and just reinforces
the idea that management gets it, and that what they say is also what they’ll
do. If you have any queries of what incompetent management can do to a
franchise, you can just glance up the QE2.
As this group continues to grow – on and off the ice – and
they continue to strengthen their bond as a team, the buzz and positive vibes
will strengthen with it. There will be ups and downs, sure, but the foundation
being built by this coaching staff and leadership group is beginning to look
strong enough to withstand them.
I don’t know what Bob Hartley is doing in that dressing
room, but it is working. It worked in Colorado.
It worked in Atlanta.
It worked Zurich, and now it’s working in Calgary.
As this dream start to the 2014/15 campaign continues for
the Calgary Flames, I leave you with one final thought. Enjoy the ride, enjoy
this excitement and emotion we haven’t felt in what seems like forever, but
keep an open mind. Accept that this is still a young, developing team and
nothing is for certain. They are still learning and they may indeed regress back
to where the pundits believed them to be all along, but stay positive and
believe the ship has been righted and is headed for great things down the line.
We might not need Connor McDavid after all.