CALGARY — By design or coincidence, NHL schedulers injected an extra dose of drama in the Calgary Flames’ season-opener.
Calgary’s first opponent of the 2019-20 season is the Colorado Avalanche, a team that conjures unpleasant memories for the Flames and their fans.
To say Colorado upset Calgary, the Western Conference’s top team last season, in the first round of the playoffs is an understatement.
The Avs hit the post-season at a gallop to claim a wild-card berth and trampled the Flames in five games.
Colorado put an exclamation mark on Calgary’s ejection with a 5-1 win at the Saddledome in Game 5.
How much carry over the Flames feel heading into Thursday’s game at the Pepsi Center in Denver depends on who you ask.
Still Fresh or Forgotten?
“I still have that really, really fresh in my memory and didn’t forget about that all summer,” Flames winger Matthew Tkachuk declared.
“Not just that they’re the team that put us out, but the way our season ended just in the blink of an eye. We want to try to get them back for making us have a long summer.”
Winger Johnny Gaudreau would rather start the season with a mental clean slate.
“New year, new start,” said Calgary’s top point-producer last season. “Obviously last season, gone and past.
“We want to get off on the right foot by having a big game in Colorado and then coming home and playing well here.”
The Flames retained the majority of player personnel from their 107-point season, while adding former Edmonton Oilers forwards Milan Lucic and Tobias Rieder and goaltender Cam Talbot.
Colorado GM Joe Sakic undertook roster renovations on a squad that went 38-30-14 and bowed out of the playoffs in a seven-game series with the San Jose Sharks in the second round.
Getting forwards Nazem Kadri from the Toronto Maple Leafs and Andre Burakovsky from the Washington Capitals via trades, as well as signing Joonas Donskoi as a free agent were significant Avalanche alterations.
The newcomers are expected to provide goal support for captain and top-line centre Nathan MacKinnon, who was a one-man wrecking crew against the Flames last spring with three goals and five assists.
Loss Isn’t Forgotten By Giordano
While Flames captain Mark Giordano acknowledges there’s no getting away from memories of the Avs ousting his team so quickly just a few months ago, there’s motivation aplenty in simply getting a win Thursday off an Avalanche team touted as a Stanley Cup contender in 2020.
“I think it’s definitely going to bring back some bad memories,” Giordano said. “That’s the team you lost to. Your season was ended by them.
“I think they’ve made more changes than us to be honest, but they still obviously have their big, top line and core guys.
“They’re expected to be one of the better teams in the league. I’ve seen people predicting they’re going to win the west. It’s going to be a fun game.”
Calgary’s 22-player opening day roster is one short of the limit of 23.
Flames GM Brad Treliving acknowledged that is a product of zero salary-cap space, but he also didn’t want to prevent a young player like forward Dillon Dube — who made last year’s first-day roster at age 20 — from getting more playing minutes with the AHL’s Stockton Heat.
Calgary’s pre-season trip to China for two games against the Boston Bruins last year was thought to be a key bonding experience that factored into the Flames’ most successful regular season since winning the Stanley Cup in 1989.
Flames players, coaches and team personnel squeezed in a two-day retreat in the mountains of Kananaskis west of Calgary earlier this week.
In addition to outdoor activities in copious amounts of snow, Treliving said there were also discussions about simultaneously letting go of, but learning from, last season’s playoff disappointment.
“We spent the weekend in about three feet of snow . . . and we kind of parked last year,” Treliving said.
“It’s only valuable if you use that experience. I have learned in life that sometimes you get a good, cold slap (and) it helps you every now and again.
“I think our group has taken that experience, has drawn from it, they’re a motivated group, but time will tell at the end of the day.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 2, 2019.
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Donna Spencer, The Canadian Press