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FITTING THE BILL

By George Johnson - CalgaryFlames.com

Jon Cooper has the Tampa Bay Lightning operating on some near mystic, as-yet unfathomable plane.

Barry Trotz, that summer-time Stanley Cup ring freshly forged, relocated from D.C. to L.I. and helped lift a Tavares-less band of Islanders to unexpected heights.

Todd Reirden took the reins of a title titan in the Caps and in the change-over has it back atop a tricky division, never an easy assignment. Old gloves-shucker Craig Berube is guiding the St. Louis Blues back to the surface after an incredibly slow start to the season. If Rick Tocchet can prod the Desert Dogs into the spring dance down there amongst the Arizona cacti, he'll find himself directly in the thick of things.

Then there's Bruce Cassidy in charge of those gangbusters in Boston. The holder, Gerard Gallant, doing another bang-up job as a follow-up in Vegas. Jim Montgomery in Dallas. Claude Julien, should the Canadiens soldier on past mid-April.

More viable Jack Adams candidates as coach of the year, really, to be found sprinkled around the National Hockey League than murder suspects with a motive in an Agatha Christie whodunit.

"Certainly there are lots of coaches who've done good jobs this year," agrees Flames GM Brad Treliving, "but I don't put our guy behind anybody.

"Don't forget, there really was no get-to-know-you period. We jumped in pretty quick, went to China, and incorporated some young players - basically playing two rookies on the blueline all year.

"The consistency of our team, finding roles for everybody … he and the entire staff have done just a wonderful job. I mean, we had a little burp a week ago and suddenly the world's coming to an end, right?

"That illustrates how consistent this team's been, how expectations have grown, have accelerated.

"And Bill Peters, obviously, has played a major part in all of that."

When discussing the quantum leap in Calgary's fortunes this season, the shimmy-shake of Johnny Gaudreau understandably draws a lion's share of the love, as does the age-defying polish of Mark Giordano, along with Treliving's injection of fresh, gifted recruits.

But the impact of the new gent at the rudder can't be overstated.

"First off, his message is clear, what he wants from us," says Giordano, a veteran of a half-dozen coaches during his stellar tenure here. "There's no beating around any bushes.

"And details … he's bang-on with those, sharp. A lot of people don't realize how big those are in winning games. Face-offs, for example, are huge for him. The forecheck in the D-zone.

"The other thing, for me, is his ability to adjust during games, switching lines up to get guys going. His in-game adjustments have really helped when we've been a little flat, in need of a spark.

"He had to take a little time and see what he had here, but then he started pushing the right buttons. His message has hit home with our players, we've bought in and it's working."

Mention the Jack Adams to the candidate himself and, well, he doesn't cringe, exactly.

"That," Peters parries, quickly, of his profession's highest individual accolade, "should always go to the guy who wins the Stanley Cup."

Sorry but ballots are due in before then.

Despite Badger Bob Johnson's influential, innovative teaching skills, Terry Crisp's back-to-back President's trophies and Darryl Sutter's stubborn ability to draw the maximum out of what was on offer, only Bob Hartley has ever climbed up on stage representing the Flames to collect the Adams, doing so four years ago.

"That (award) is an organizational thing, to me," Peters continues. "It's a reflection of everything you have around you."

Peters took control of an 84-point team when hired on April 23. Martin Gelinas and goaltending guru Jordan Sigalet stayed on from the departed Glen Gulutzan's tutorial staff, Geoff Ward was wooed away from New Jersey and Ryan Huska promoted from Stockton.

The coaching team, no different than the on-ice product, knitted surprisingly quickly.

"Very prepared,'' says Huska of Peters. "I also think he's done a real good job of knowing when to lean on people and when to say: 'OK, today's a day off.' I think he has a terrific handle on the group and is just fantastic with his preparation.

"Day-to-day, whether you've won seven in a row or dropped a couple in a row, you don't see a change in him, in his demeanour. The approach is the same. He keeps the message, and the way it's delivered, constant.

"Consistency is important. The players get it from him. He's our leader."

And the prevailing mood inside the coaching inner sanctum from day-to-day?

"It's a blast," reports Huska. "A lot of fun. Bill expects preparation, detail, out of his staff, demands intensity to be there when it's needed.

"But he has a very, very good heart. He enjoys a good laugh, loves talking the game. He cares about the people around him.

"When he gets days off, he visits his parents a lot. He wants to know what our kids are up to. Who's got hockey? Who's got volleyball? Did they win the night before?

"He's into that. Which is why people work hard for him."

The Alberta Advantage isn't only a slogan from the Ralph Klein era. For a guy who grew up in Killam, Alta., being here, front-and-centre in a hockey-mad environment while being close to his nearest and dearest, has proven a godsend.

"Everyone talks about how before it's done you have to coach in a Canadian market, and get a feel for what that's all about, the energy it provides, the passion,'' says Peters.

"I'm getting that now. And thoroughly enjoying myself."

Outside of one sister still living in Killam, everyone in the Peters family - including mom Irene and dad Bill - reside in Red Deer. Making it easy for Bill, wife Denise and the two kids to pay frequent visits.

"To be able to just head up Highway 2 and see my parents, spend quality time with them, has been fantastic. Even if only for the day. And for my kids to be able to go and visit them is special, too. My parents are getting older, so when you're living in the U.S. or in the southeast, it's hard. Now we can take advantage of the proximity.

"So the year has been great from a personal point of view.

"Professionally, we have real good people in all of our departments. Tre does a good job managing our staff. It's a group I enjoy meeting with every day, getting their insights, their input, on the game. Not only our games but those around the league.

"It's a real grinding-type staff. They watch games every night and show up in the morning saying: 'Hey, you've gotta see this play in the third period from this game out east.'

"Then the players, their ability to come and do their jobs, has been unbelievable. Their ability to stick together when things get tough, to rally around each other, has been impressive."

So, undeniably, has Peters' ability to knit the many strands of the weave together to produce a cohesive whole.

"Peel back the layers on Bill?" laughs centre Derek Ryan, one of the Carolina recruits that have played their entire NHL careers for Peters. "I'm not sure I have yet.

"I've obviously been coached by him for a long time. He's not there to be your best friend, he's there to help you win.

"He's pretty serious but can take his foot off the gas and relax a little when the guys need it. Most of the time, though, he's pretty dialled in, high energy, looking to get the best out of everybody, whatever that might be for an individual."

For comparison sake, that season Hartley copped the Adams, the Flames registered a 20-point improvement over the previous campaign. This edition is going to surpass the 100-point plateau for the first time since 2005-2006 and a strong finish to the regular season would see this ranked as one of the most successful regular campaigns in franchise history.

"Straight-forwardness in attacking an issue,'' ventures Treliving, asked to select a distinctive coaching trait of his bench boss. "There's no tap-dancing involved. No mind games.

"Players never go home at night thinking: 'Gee, I really wonder where I stand with Bill?' It may be blunt but it's right there in front of you. And it's not done in a dressing-down manner. It's done in a factual manner.

"And I think the players respond to that. They may not always agree what they're hearing, or necessarily like it. But they do respect it.

"He gets right to the point, quick, and you move on."

Predictably, Peters points everywhere else but at himself in explaining the dizzying heights his group has reached.

"Ten, 11, 12 games in we were a .500 type team," he reminds you. "Meaning we had a decision to make: Were we prepared to be more efficient, to take a step or just kinda keep going down the path we were on?

"Guys weren't happy being a .500 team so they started to dig in and sacrifice and look where we are."

First in the Pacific Division, tops in the Western Conference.

Certainly a Jack Adams Trophy-worthy first impression.

"When we were addressing areas of concern during the summer,'' recalls Treliving, "we put together a checklist.

"Well …

"Home record? Check.

"Powerplay, special teams? Check. Check.

"Our ability to create more? Check.

"Bill Peters was obviously been instrumental in us ticking off those boxes.

"That's a lot of boxes.

"The coaches you mentioned are all, as I said before, doing great jobs with their respective teams this year. No disrespect to any of them.

"And obviously I'm biased but I think his should be up there with any of those names."

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