'GUYS ARE GOING TO BE HUNGRY'
Head coach Bill Peters has enjoyed recharging with family this summer and is fired up for seasonby RYAN DITTRICK @ryandittrick / CalgaryFlames.com
COLDSTREAM, B.C. - Welcome to paradise.
The smell of pine, fresh fruit, coconut sunblock and miles, upon miles of divine Riesling, Pinot and Cabernet grapes own the vast landscape.
The rolling, sun-scorched hills and glossy, emerald-green lakes make for the idyllic holiday postcard.
The sweltering heat is a blessing, of course, because beach time is not one, but a thrice-a-day activity.
Truly, a magical summertime escape.
And yet …
"It probably hit me a week ago," said Flames coach Bill Peters in the stunning Okanagan Valley, where much of the hockey world descends in the off-season. "I finally (said), 'You know what? It's time.'
"Luckily, we have another few weeks left, so we're going to take advantage of it …
"But when we get back to Calgary, it's time to go.
"And everyone will be ready."
Indeed, a bitter taste remains that not even the refreshingly cold waters of Kalamalka Lake could help rid over the past few months.
Ousted by the Colorado Avalanche in five games to open the 2019 playoffs, the Flames, the coach feels, learned a valuable lesson that will benefit what is largely the same group returning for training camp a little over a month.
Nothing's a given.
And that's a given, surely.
But after grossing the second-highest point total in franchise history, and after winning the division, raising a banner - the whole nine - the standings roll right back, resetting the field and giving all 31 teams a measure of hope.
A stiff challenge lies ahead.
To block out the noise and put the work boots on, to have a crack at it - again - in April, 2020.
"Guys are going to be hungry," Peters said. "Guys are going to be disappointed with how it ended, and we're going to hear about it all the time. Throughout the regular season, that's going to be the narrative, right? It's going to be, 'What are you going to do in the playoffs?'
'It's the same team,' this, that and the other.
"It's about getting ready to have a quality year once again and make the playoffs. The thing that people have to remember is that you still have to qualify for the playoffs, and when we hit the playoffs, we've got to be better prepared.
"What we're going to have to do is, A) Qualify, and B) Prove people wrong."
With a Norris Trophy-winning defenceman leading the pack, a 99-point winger just now hitting his prime, Sean Monahan, Matthew Tkachuk and others all finding a new gear, and superior depth in every position, the Flames are again positioned to have success in the West.
Other teams have made improvements, too, and the Flames know they're among the 'hunted' now.
The advantage, this time, is continuity.
Together with his coaches Geoff Ward, Ryan Huska and Jordan Sigalet, Peters has a full year with this team under his belt. There have been some changes so far this off-season, with goaltender Cam Talbot signing a one-year deal to support sophomore David Rittich, while the acquisition of Milan Lucic gives the team a different look up front, with more bite on the physical side.
Most of all, it's a team loaded with young talent; a roster littered with first-, second-, and third-year stars poised to make strides.
"You saw those young D men play real well last year and we expect more from them this year," Peters said. "I know they're driven and will have had good summers. And then a guy like (Andrew) Mangiapane and (Sam) Bennett and those types of guys that are still young enough that there's lots of room for growth - no different than Mony, Johnny and Lindy.
"I expect our team to grow from within.
"We laid some building blocks [last year]. We have a good foundation moving forward. … I think we're going to be able to do some different things that are going to be beneficial for us. We're going to be able to learn from what happened in the playoffs, as a group, as a team, as a coaching staff - as a coach - and move forward to better prepare our team.
"I'm ready, now.