The Calgary Flames have completed their Phase 3 training camp, have moved into their Edmonton-based bubble, and are ready to avenge last season’s early first-round exit. Last season, the No. 1-seeded Flames only got a sniff of the playoffs, losing quietly in five games to the No. 8-seed Colorado Avalanche.
As the team gets ready to face the Winnipeg Jets on Aug. 1, in this post I’d like to help Flames fans stay up-to-date about news and rumors emerging from the organization.
Item One: For Geoff Ward and Milan Lucic, It’s Deja Vu All Over Again
Even Flames fans would agree that Milan Lucic is currently only a shell of his former self. However, that doesn’t mean that his coach Geoff Ward isn’t happy to have him as part of the team heading into postseason play. Lucic brings a load of playoff experience to the ice, and Ward hopes the team can lean on that experience to help them make a push toward the Stanley Cup. The question is: might Lucic have another great postseason in him?
If the Flames’ head coach is confident in Lucic’s postseason experience, there’s a good reason for it. He should know what Lucic brings because, of the aging power forward’s 114 games of postseason playoff experience, almost 100 of them were spent together with the Boston Bruins. Ward was an assistant coach with the Bruins for seven seasons, which overlapped Lucic’s eight-year tenure with the team. Together Lucic (as a player) and Ward (as an assistant coach) were part of the Bruins’ Stanley Cup championship in 2011.
Even for Lucic, such playoff success must seem long ago. Few remember how great a power forward Lucic once was; certainly, the 2010-11 season was his best. In 79 games, he scored 30 goals and 62 regular-season points. In 25 playoff games that season, he added five goals and seven assists. He was a force.
This season Ward and Lucic have a chance to do it again, even if the situation is somewhat different. Ward is now Lucic’s head coach. Although Lucic isn’t the powerhouse he once was, Ward seems anxious to be going into battle with his aging warrior.
He noted, “(Lucic) now has the experience that a guy like Mark Recchi gave our team in Boston when he came there. We expect him to bring that same experience to our room right now.” (from “Flames set to lean on playoff veteran Lucic, who ‘relishes this time of the year,” Kristen Anderson, Calgary Sun, 23/07/20).
Ward was not the Flames head coach last season, and Lucic was a member of an Edmonton Oilers team that didn’t make the playoffs. However, the Flames remember and are motivated to bounce back from last season’s embarrassingly quick exit.
Lucic acknowledged as much, “First and foremost, the mindset of the group is in the right spot just because of the bitterness of last year’s playoffs. So, I think the hunger is definitely there.” Lucic notes that the team came to camp in “good shape” and “with a purpose.”
Lucic also spoke directly about himself when he said the team must rely on its depth if it wants to push toward the Cup. He’s now what is others refer to as “a depth player.” All this said, is it too crazy to believe Lucic might be able to help his team move win another Stanley Cup? He’s done it before, and with Ward.
Item Two: Sam Bennett Wants to Repeat His Great 2019 Playoffs
Despite the team’s failure in general last season, Sam Bennett was a point-a-game player during last season’s 2019 playoffs and he expects to have the same impact this postseason.
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As Bennett noted, the goal is similar: “I don’t think anything changes. I get excited for playoff hockey, and I think it brings the best out of me. I don’t change anything in my mind or preparation or anything like that. I think it’s just a lot of excitement, a lot of adrenaline … and I just go out and play.” (from “Flames forward Sam Bennett itching for another strong playoff showing, Wes Gilbertson, Calgary Sun, 22/07/20).
Item Three: Stockton Heat (AHL) and the Kansas City Mavericks (ECHL) Will Remain Flames Affiliates
Assuming there will be minor league hockey in the 2020-21 season, it was announced that the Calgary Flames affiliates for the 2020-21 season would continue to be the Stockton Heat in the AHL and the Kansas City Mavericks of the ECHL.
Item Four: Third-string Goalie Jon Gillies Finally Saw Training Camp Action
The Flames third-string goalie saw his first training camp action on Friday, just before the team’s camp ended. Because Cam Talbot took the day off, Jon Gillies played and didn’t allow a goal during the scrimmage.
However, he noted it took him some time to get comfortable: “I felt terrible for the first 10 minutes or so, then felt fine after that — as expected. To start poorly and end on a positive note, that’s really all you can ask for.”
He also noted how different it was being in a game versus just practicing, “It’s just a readjustment, just frankly trying to remember how to play hockey again. But once you make that adjustment, I felt fine. So it was nice to knock the rust off as much as possible.” (from “SNAPSHOTS: Flames’ third-string goalie Gillies thankful for chance to knock off rust,” Wes Gilbertson, Calgary Sun, 24/07/20).
What’s Next for the Flames?
Similar to other teams, the Flames must prepare to play in an arena (Edmonton’s Rogers Place) that’s basically empty. In total, counting skaters, coaches, other team’s staff members, security people, the Zamboni driver, television crews, officials, and a few reporters there might be only a few hundred people in the entire building.
As Talbot noted, “It’s just going to be kind of awkward. The fans bring so much of an atmosphere to the whole game, and you’re able to feed off it whether you’re home or away. Sometimes, you can even feed off an away crowd if you make a big save or something like that.” (from “Empty feeling: Flames ready for ‘weird’ and ‘eerie’ atmosphere without fans in rink,” Wes Gilbertson, Calgary Sun, 26/07/20).
It will be interesting as fans what to expect as well. It can be disconcerting to watch sports on television without a crowd. We will soon see.