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Hartley cherished his time in Calgary guiding youthful Flames

by George Johnson / Calgary Flames

-- True to his nature, to his outlook, to his personal philosophy, Bob Hartley didn’t give the impression of a man aggrieved.

An extended travel day had doubtless provided ample time for perspective, for settling, for balance after the jarring news of Tuesday morning.

Still, bitterness, recrimination, a hair-trigger settling of accounts, simply aren’t his style.

“I’m always the most optimistic guy in the room,’’ was the promise when he first arrived four years ago to begin his NHL comeback coaching odyssey; before the playoff renaissance of two seasons ago, the Uncle Bob persona and the DQ Flaming C ice-cream cakes.

A man of his word, right to the end. And beyond. Still making self-help guru Tony Robbins look an absolute dark-cloud downer by comparison.

During a conference call early Wednesday afternoon, not much more than 24 hours after being fired, the suddenly-deposed coach of the Calgary Flames thanked so many people within the organizational umbrella you might've mistakenly thought he’d just been handed some big, shiny trophy suitable for display, not a pink slip.

He thanked the man who hired him.

He thanked the man who fired him.

He thanked the players. He thanked his coaching “partners.” He thanked the fans. He thanked the peerless Al MacNeil, “his mentor.” He thanked the community. He thanked the training and equipment staffs. He thanked those who work anonymously, in shadow, in the bowels of the Scotiabank Saddledome, at entrances and in catering and tickets, doing the small jobs that make the big show work 41 nights a season.

He even thanked the media, who he kept entertained via his comedy lounge act, without ever imposing even a nominal cover charge.

But that’s Bob Hartley.

“Yesterday,’’ he conceded, “I felt very empty.” (Empty, not angry, and there is a distinction to be made there). “Very sad. Because I felt that despite the fact we didn't get the results were were looking for this year, following up a great year … maybe two extremes … I really believe this organization is heading the right way, with a very strong foundation of great young players.

“I just feel very sad that I didn’t get the opportunity to keep working as a group, keep working as an organization for better days.

“There’s no doubt my mind this team is one or two years, couple of players, away from being an excellent hockey club, making a long push real deep in the playoffs.

“Obviously, it’s going to be for somebody else. I fully understand the risks of our business and I accept the responsibility.”

Hartley’s populism defined his tenure here. When the Saddledome re-opened following the devastating flood of 2013, those who work in the building remember the first one to personally thank them for their efforts.

Little things like that go a long way.

No job, of course, lasts forever. No one understands that more acutely than someone who’d been fired twice before in this league.

Not that it ever gets easier.

“When I got the news,’’ Hartley said, “it was terrible news. It was a long day of travel back to Florida with a connection in Houston.

“So obviously I had lots of time on the plane to reflect. We took a veteran team and we re-tooled it into a much younger hockey club.

“And I think today we’re very proud of the foundation of this hockey club while still having a very good leadership group.’’

That nurturing of the developing talent he sees as his legacy here. Even during this past season’s fall from grace, the cornerstone pieces moving forward delivered career campaigns.

Bob Hartley certainly isn’t the first coach or GM to help bring along a group of young players and not be around for the payoff. And he won’t be the last.

“There’s a lot of development that went on,’’ he said proudly. “That’s what’s disappointing to me. If you look at our record this year, yes, it’s disappointing. But the work that’s been done, the progression, that you don’t see in the standings today is a great investment for the future.

“I believe from day one we started to establish a very good culture of hard work, a culture of expectations where you couldn’t hide -- you had to deliver. Remember our phrase - Always Earned, Never Given?

“You look at the Mikael Backlunds, the Colbornes, Johnny, Monny, Brodie, Hamilton.

“I felt that we as an organization had done lots of good things that maybe didn’t show in the standings but will show in the very near future.”

And he plans on watching, from behind some other organization’s bench.

“Obviously, coaching is my passion. It’s in my blood. So there’s no doubt I want to coach. I’m only 55 years old. I believe I’m in great shape. I love this game. I love teaching. I love compete, tying to win hockey games.

“Right now the coaching carousel is spinning out of control. It’s that time of the year. There’s lots of jobs, there’s lots of names and there’s going to be lots of speculation.

“I will not get involved in this. There’s a process for every job open and I’ll be very respectful to that process.’’

In departure, Hartley remains the same guy he was upon arriving: The self-proclaimed “most optimistic man in the room.”

“I have great memories leaving this great community,’’ he said by way of goodbye. “I want to thank … everyone.

““I entered by the big door four years ago. I want to make sure I leave by the big door. We cultivated pride. And today, in my situation, I’m the one who has to show pride.

“I was blessed. I worked with people who supported me.

“I had lots of fun.’’

In that, he was far from alone.

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