There are numerous explanations for the Calgary Flames’ dominance in the early half of the 2018-19 campaign. Credit can be divided and allocated among the Flames’ solidified goaltending, tightened defence, or surging offence. However, there is one pivotal component that binds all of these playing aspects together: leadership, personified by the coaching staff under the direction of head coach Bill Peters. In this hallmark 2018-19 NHL season, we’ll examine certain aspects of his coaching style that have made such an impact in the Flames’ performance.
Under Peters, the Flames rank among the best in the NHL, battling the powerhouse Winnipeg Jets (22-9-2) and Nashville Predators (22-11-2) for Western Conference supremacy, while holding a competitive 22-11-2 record of their own. While books could be written about the depth and intricacy of Peters’ coaching, here we’ll observe one small aspect of his leadership style. In short, Peters balances toughness and motivation, an equilibrium that, for this season at least, has rocketed his Flames straight to the top.
When the Going Gets Tough, Peters Gets Tougher
On Oct. 13, during a Saturday engagement versus the Colorado Avalanche, the Flames allowed two goals in the opening minutes to give the Avs a 2-0 lead. Shortly after, Peters called a timeout, assembled his team, and gave them an unfiltered piece of his mind (from ‘Peters’ screaming pep-talk wakes up Flames, inspires late rally and OT win,’ The Calgary Sun – 10/14/18). The coach was not happy about his team’s early lapse and he was not afraid to let them know. After his fiery “pep talk”, the momentum of the game shifted, the Flames battled back, and in a brief overtime period, Johnny Gaudreau notched the game-winner to steal the victory.
Wake-up calls have been consistent with Peters throughout the season when the Flames are caught napping. Last Friday during practice, “Peters blew his whistle, spit out a few words unsuitable for young children,” and made the players do some punitive “extra skating,” according to the Calgary Sun’s Kristen Anderson (from ‘Flames notes: Backlund looks ready for action,’ – The Calgary Sun – 12/14/18).
This was in response to the near-loss to the Philadelphia Flyers on Dec. 12, when the Flames came from behind to capture a 6-5 victory. It was an impressive comeback, but the Flames trailed 5-3 until the final minutes before notching two clutch goals to force the Flyers into overtime. Once again, Gaudreau was the overtime hero.
While it’s nice that the Flames won, Peters made no secret about his scorn for close calls such as that. Following the narrow victory, he made sure his message was delivered loud and clear, like in last Friday’s practice. What ensued was a weekend of winning, as the Flames topped the Minnesota Wild 2-1 on Saturday before smashing the St. Louis Blues 7-2 on Sunday.
Such is Peters’ coaching style. When the going gets tough, he is not afraid to respond in kind. His blunt, no-nonsense coaching has been a welcome addition to the Flames, shown most clearly on the scoreboard each night and in the standings as well. Whether from late in-game comebacks or from explosive improvements in following nights, Peters knows what he is doing and the payoff has been substantial.
The Motivator: Peters Never Shy to Show His Players Love
Bluster is not the only means by which Peters energizes his players. From numerous interviews and public comments, the Flames’ coach has shown himself to be an open and encouraging leader, not shy to express love or admiration for his hockey club.
Never short of kind words, Peters can regularly be seen commending both his team’s overall performance and the progress of individual players and units. Case in point is his upbeat Nov. 25 interview, following the Flames’ 6-1 victory over the Arizona Coyotes. It was an interesting night, when Peters endured that notorious stray puck to the face, forcing him to briefly leave the game for medical attention. In the postgame interview, Peters stitched up and in good humour, warmly lauded the performance of his lineup, as well as the development and acclimation of his younger players to the team.
On Saturday, Nov. 17, Peters praised the performance of goalie David Rittich in a postgame interview, after the Flames beat the Edmonton Oilers 4-2. “He made some great saves,” said Peters. “He allowed us to build a game and then score a huge power play goal in the second… He gave us a chance to get better, and I know the guys would appreciate that.”
In that interview, Peters applauded his team, crediting the Flames’ various lines for their contribution to the victory. Similar words have been heard from the head coach throughout the season. Given the consistent results, Peters’ motivation seems to be conducive to his team’s success.
Heading into the halfway point of his first year behind the Flames’ bench, Peters is proving to be a leader who can effectively speak his mind. He is not afraid to have difficult conversations with his team, nor does he hesitate to speak warmly of his squad. In Peters, the Flames have found a coach with both strength and compassion.
This balance has been a boon to the Flames’ deep and talented lineup, uniting and energizing the team, and beating a path towards one of the most successful seasons that the Flames have ever had. Many are saying that this Calgary Flames squad is the best that the city has seen in over 25 years. That recognition is in no small part owed to the leadership of the head coach, who has been exceptional.