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Flames eagerly await road-heavy start to season

by Aaron Vickers / Calgary Flames

I’m pumped for it. I think it’s going to be great for some young guys to get to know some of the older guys who they didn’t spend a lot of time with during camp and it’ll be a chance for the older guys to show them the ropes a little bit.Joe Colborne

CALGARY, AB -- The Calgary Flames are set to kick off the season as Scotiabank Saddledome.

After that, it’ll be time to pack a suitcase. A very big suitcase.

While Calgary opens at home Wednesday against the Vancouver Canucks, they’ll depart for Edmonton following the game to embark on a six-game, 11-day spin through the Western Conference -- minus a pit stop against the Columbus Blue Jackets -- that will have them log over 6900kms over the opening two weeks of the season.

And, surprisingly enough, that suits the Flames just fine.

“For me personally, I’m looking at it like a positive for us that we can go out there and learn about each other and hopefully get to that tight-knit, close feeling we had last year,” forward Joe Colborne said. “As the year went on last year, I think that was a big part of why we had such a strong second half. We were so tight. We were so close and together that it started showing on the ice.

“Obviously it’s not going to be easy. It’s going to be a real tough road trip for us, but it’s a good challenge. I’m pumped for it. I think it’s going to be great for some young guys to get to know some of the older guys who they didn’t spend a lot of time with during camp and it’ll be a chance for the older guys to show them the ropes a little bit.”

The tour, Colborne admitted, won’t be easy. Calgary is set to square off against the St. Louis Blues on Saturday as the second stop on the trip and will also see the Chicago Blackhawks in the second half of back-to-backs after tackling the Nashville Predators next week. After a visit to Columbus next Friday, the Flames wrap up against the Winnipeg Jets nearly two full weeks from now.

It’s the kind of test coach Bob Hartley wants his team to go through while the season is in its infancy.

“We feel that it’s a good setup for us,” Hartley said. “At the same time, it’s going to be a good test, a big test. To get the guys together, we have three, four new veterans, we have a couple of kids, so it’s important. Training camp, we had so many games that we had to spread the veterans in amounts of games in order to respect the number of veterans each game. It’s going to be good.

“If you’d ask me rather start six at home or six on the road, I’d take the six on the road right now. I think we’re well conditioned. It’s going to give us a pretty good gauge of where we’re at as a group and it’s going to be a great challenge.”

But by no means are the Flames looking beyond Wednesday’s affair at the Saddledome, though, a celebration in front of what is expected to be a capacity crowd of 19,289.

At the same time there’s plenty to build around it, according to Matt Stajan.

“Our focus is the home opener,” he said. “Would we rather start at home with a six-game homestand? Of course we would but I think you use this road trip as a bonding experience for everybody to get to know each other. You spend a little bit more time because training camp is a little bit hectic but you take it one game at a time and focus on each day and we’ll do that and hopefully we’ll keep getting stronger every day.”

There will be plenty of time to strengthen Calgary’s bond on the trip. There will be plenty of new faces to integrate, too.

The likes of Brandon Bollig, Jonas Hiller, Deryk Engelland, Devin Setoguchi and Mason Raymond are all new bodies from last season. Johnny Gaudreau managed to sneak just one game in before last season’s finale in Vancouver, too.

“It really forces the new guys to come and bond,” Colborne said. “We had such a close-knit group on the road last year. We’d all go out for dinner last year and it’d be just stuff you’d do on the road because you don’t want to be locked in a hotel room. It can kind of help bring a team together and help them bond.

“That’s kind of the attitude I’m trying to take with it and take the positives out of it.”

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