They’re going to be great for us because that’s the way they’ve been all year. This won’t change. On our side, if we could, I would like our players and our coaches and the entire team organization…our fans deserve a standing ovation [Friday] night. - Bob Hartley
CALGARY, AB -- Bob Hartley isn’t interested in what sort of reception his Calgary Flames will get in their final home game of the 2013-14 season.
Instead, the coach is more interested in what more his Flames can give back to the fans when hosting the Winnipeg Jets at Scotiabank Saddledome on Friday.
“It’s more what we feel (we can do) for our fans,” Hartley said. “I’ve been in hockey for a long time and I’ve got only one standing ovation. I saw my team get a standing ovation here this year after a loss. That’s probably a first in hockey history and it shows the passion our fans have for our hockey club.
“I have the utmost respect for Flames fans.”
In the infancy of a rebuild, Hartley’s Flames have given fans plenty to cheer about.
While Calgary sits 26th overall in the NHL standings heading into the final two contests of the season -- Friday at home against the Jets and on the road Sunday in the season finale against the Vancouver Canucks -- the Flames have been strong on home ice with a 19-18-3 record, including a 12-4-0 run following a seven-game skid coming off the Christmas break.
The mark ensures Calgary will finish at least .500 or better on home ice.
“That does mean a lot, especially with the way we started at home,” forward Joe Colborne said. “We have really been focusing on trying to create an identity this year of being a hard working team and being a team that nobody wants to play against. I think we’ve accomplished that. That’s the one thing we can say.
“We’re obviously not happy with where we’ve finished in the standings but the way we’ve played at home as of late has been a big source of pride for us. In the past few months, we’ve been able to take that step and that is the start of creating a successful team.”
Calgary’s play at home has helped ease what many expected to be a painful rebuilding process.
The brand of hockey Hartley has put on the ice has kept the Flames -- three games under that .500 mark overall -- competitive in a season of growing pains. With two games remaining, Hartley’s crew has already matched an NHL record with 49 one-goal games.
Needless to say, it’s been an entertaining season for fans regardless of outcome.
“There’s a difference between entertaining hockey and successful hockey,” started Colborne, “It means a lot to us that fans have stood by us. I can’t even begin to explain how much it means to the guys in this room. You don’t get that in many hockey markets, especially ones as passionate as the Flames’ one is.
“The fact they’ve noticed the hard work we’ve put in, after (Lance) Bouma blocks a big shot or (Karri) Ramo makes a big save and the fans are going nuts, it gets us going on the bench and it has a big effect on the momentum of the game. Hopefully they’ve enjoyed this year and they respect the effort we’ve put in and we’ve certainly enjoyed and respected the effort that they’ve put in for us.”
That effort certainly hasn’t gone unnoticed from behind the bench.
“I think that the building has been very lively all year,” Hartley said. “They’ve been fun. They’ve been very supportive all year. Whatever the situation is, the fans want to support a winning hockey club. Winning is the most fun. Kids in minor hockey, they cry when they lose. It’s the best way to get their support and get them in this great building and build a solid relationship with them.”
And in what will serve as the season finale on home ice Friday, the coach anticipates nothing less than what he’s seen from the Flames faithful throughout the season.
“They’re going to be great for us because that’s the way they’ve been all year,” Hartley said. “This won’t change. On our side, if we could, I would like our players and our coaches and the entire team organization…our fans deserve a standing ovation [Friday] night.”