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FLAMES SPARKED FROM MID-SEASON MISSTEP

After a tough wake-up call in Montreal, the Flames have turned their season around and surged up the standings

by AARON VICKERS @AAVickers / CalgaryFlames.com

The candid outburst was unforgettable.

"Pathetic,'' Glen Gulutzan said in the wake of 5-1 loss at the Montreal Canadiens on Jan. 24, a fourth straight setback and third by a margin of four goals.

"No bite-back.

"No kick-back.

"Just accept it, right down." 

It was an uncharacteristic, but warranted, speech from the Calgary Flames coach.

It might've been a season-saver, too.

"I think it was a little frustration," said Craig Conroy, assistant general manager and a veteran of over 1,000 NHL games. "He was not happy and he let it be known.

"It's a wake-up call. He's sending a wake-up call,"

"I had lots of coaches send wake-up calls. [Darryl Sutter]'s had a million of them. Joel Quenneville … he can be a little bit hard. Mike Keenan had a few. Al MacNeil even had a couple.

"They're never friendly, but you know he's at the breaking point and you have to turn this around. 'Let's go.' He's right. We weren't good enough. We weren't playing well enough and we had to get going. 

"Whether that triggered everything or it was going to happen no matter what … he snapped and the team seemed to respond."

They certainly did.

The Flames are 11-2-1, including a current six-game winning streak, since Gulutzan voiced his frustration over a group that at the time was 24-24-3 and had but one win in their past seven outings.

Quite the turnaround.

"I think we all knew that it wasn't going well," forward Kris Versteeg said. "We knew we had the team to do it but things kind of sometimes go sideways and it's hard to get it back on track. You have to find solutions.

"Gully's been great with finding ways to re-energize the guys all season. That was a great time then.

"He's very good with the players. I've played with a lot of coaches and he's amazing with me. He tries to find the best in each and every guy every night. When he gets emotional you know it's for a reason.

"I think everyone responded that way because of it."

At the time, the Calgary club was clinging to the second Wildcard spot into the Stanley Cup Playoffs from the Western Conference, one point up on the Los Angeles Kings and the Vancouver Canucks, who each had played three fewer games.

Fast-forward through the Flames' 14 games since, and the home side finds themselves in the first Wildcard position and six points up on the Kings, who hold the second. The Flames are also seven points clear of the St. Louis Blues, who are the closest team on the outside looking in.

"It was pretty warranted," forward Troy Brouwer said. "Sometimes what it does is it catches you off guard and you wonder where it's coming from. At that time it was completely warranted.

"Guys knew it was going to happen and you can respect your coach for saying those things when you know it's the case.

"Gully with us, he's a player's coach. It definitely caught our attention. The majority of the time he's a friendly guy with us. Mistakes are going to be made, but when he has comments like that, you take it because they're not things that happen day-to-day at the rink for us."

But as much as his players pointed to the honest petition, Gulutzan squashed any notion that his plea had anything to do with the turnaround.

"There's no correlation there," he declared. "I was mad at the guys there and rightfully so. I still don't think it's even that bad.

"Rightfully so.

"We weren't playing good hockey. We were getting away from it. Mentally we weren't staying engaged. We talked about it. The biggest thing wasn't the rant after the game.

"That's what you guys see."

Instead, Gulutzan points to what happened the following day.

That's what turned the ship.

"We had a hard meeting in Ottawa," he said.

"Real face-to-face, in front of the group, every guy got talked to about his role and expectations and what we need from there. 

"A very honest meeting.

"I think we've responded. All of us. Even the coaches in that meeting.

"We all took on a little bit more."

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