Yesterday’s news. That’s the Calgary Flames’ attitude as they start the new season, putting last spring’s first-round playoff flop behind them and looking ahead to a lengthier Stanley Cup chase. The defending NHL Pacific Division champs can exact a modicum of revenge on the Colorado Avalanche — the team that booted them — as the two foes open the 2019-20 campaigns against each other on Thursday night at the Pepsi Center in Denver.
The squad spent a team-bonding weekend in snowy Banff National Park before beginning the regular season. To facilitate the festivities, the Flames hired High 5 Adventure Learning Center and head coach Bill Peters was thrilled with the Vermont organization’s curriculum:
“Outstanding… They had a great program set up for us for two days and (we) enjoyed every minute of it,” said Peters from the Scotiabank Saddledome on Tuesday. “It was a real worthwhile venture and a lot of fun at the same time. “
The second-year Flames coach spoke enthusiastically of the time away from familiar surroundings as his team prepared for the immediate grind ahead. Relegating the playoff fumble to the back-burner is a challenge for the men in red, and they can’t let the disappointment of unrealized expectations linger like a bad hangover. Realizing that good teams have bad stretches and preparing to overcome those stretches is something Peters believes his charges can achieve. The two-day trip to the mountains is a step toward that goal.
Flames Must Ghost Playoff Loss
“You’ve got to move on, you’ve got to live in the present, you’ve got to be able to move on,” said Peters. “It was real good, good to spend a bunch of time with our group and do some activities that you normally wouldn’t do together and be able to set some goals and bond a little bit, so I thought it was a real productive two days.”
As far as the excitement level, Peters says the first game is always a big night for everyone. Facing the Avalanche on opening night will have everyone’s adrenaline pumping, and he believes it’s a great opportunity to exorcise at least one demon:
“It’s opening night and I think everyone around the league is going to be juiced-up,” he said. “It’s even better when I see we play Colorado.”
Flames’ general manager Brad Treliving shared the same philosophy of moving on from past disappointments:
“We kind of parked last year,” he said to a media gathering at the Saddledome. “A big part of it was talk — a little bit about the good and the bad and you park both. Everybody talks about the end of the season but there’s a lot that went on during the season that you have to park both. As I’ve said a lot, too, it’s only valuable if you use that experience, but I have learned in life that sometimes you get a good cold slap… that helps you every now and again.”
Treliving will learn a lot about the character and will of his team. Can they respond with the resilience he envisions or will the Flames allow a negative ending to an otherwise positive season carry-over to the current crusade?
“I think our group has taken that experience and has drawn from it,” he continued. “They’re a motivated group but time will tell, really, at the end of the day, our focus — I know there’s going to be a narrative out there — our focus is to be real present in today. We can’t change what happened last year. In that room there, [Flames locker room] we’re done talking about last year.”
Five-Game Playoff Loss to Avalanche Stings
The slap of being chased from the postseason in five games in the opening round by an eighth seed did not sit well with the Western Conference’s regular-season champ. However, offensive dynamo Johnny Gaudreau reinforced the sentiments of his coach and GM and was dismissive of any lingering effect of a disappointing seasons’ end:
“Last season, gone and past,” he said. “We’re focused on this new year and want to get off on the right foot by having a big game in Colorado and then coming home and having a big game here.”
According to the Flames’ top scorer, the pieces are in place to realize another hugely successful regular season followed by a deep playoff run. Almost all of the players who fell so unceremoniously in April have returned this fall with a dogged-determination to take the team to loftier heights this spring.
“If you ask a lot of the guys around the locker room, I think — like most people feel — we have a tight group in here,” he said from the bowels of the home rink. “A lot of skill, a lot of smart players, talented players, so we have the right people to be successful and I think the guys in here know that, too.”
Treliving is optimistic and sees a collection of hungry players eager for more after a longer-than-desired summer. After hurting together as a team, the Flames are ready and eager to heal together by winning.
Treliving Says Flames a Motivated Group
“Last year’s over, there is nothing you can do about it,” he explained. “We’ll get asked about those questions, but this is a motivated group, it’s a group that believes they’re a good team, it’s a group that cares about each other and it’s a group that’s set out to have a good year.
“We have to worry about game one and then game two and staying present and trying to get better each game. What I’m excited about is that they’re anxious to start the journey. It’s a motivated group, but again there’s nothing we can do about last year other than learn from it and get ready for this year.”
The 2019-20 campaign is here and last season’s final opponent is up first. The Flames are determined to open the season with much better news than last April’s ending story.
Allan is an award-winning writer, editor and journalist who has scouted high school athletes for the NCAA and MLB, and has worked in sports management and sales in professional soccer and football.