CALGARY, AB – With an off day for most members of the Calgary Flames, head coach Bob Hartley took to the ice to put Jiri Hudler, Roman Cervenka and Anton Babchuk through the paces.
And after a traditional Hartley practice that pushed the pace of the three inactive Flames,
the trio - who have yet to make their debut for the Flames this season - were treated to a four-on-four exhibition bout with the team’s coaching staff.
Joined by goaltending coach Clint Malarchuk, the players took on Hartley, associate coach Jacques Cloutier, assistant coach Martin Gelinas and special assistant to the general manager turned jack-of-all-trades Craig Conroy in an instant classic.
Up for grabs? Bragging rights for the OBHL Cup.
“That was the OBHL,” Hartley said. “That was the name of our league. Today it was the international version of that.”
After putting the players through an intense, skating-driven session that landed in the neighbourhood of an hour, Hartley’s staff challenged the weary-legged players to a little scrimmage action.
“That’s always a strategy,” he admitted.
It was a plan that almost worked, according to Hudler.
“It was tough but a lot of fun,” Hudler said, back on the ice since leaving the club last week. “Obviously they had a lot of energy and I think they wanted to look in better shape than us. Martin Gelinas probably is.”
With pride – and a bowl sitting on a trash can wrapped in carelessly taped tinfoil – on the line, the players came through, upsetting the coaching staff by a score of 3-2 in the scrimmage’s final game.
Alex Tanguay, who happened to stop by to take in the festivities, awarded the players the trophy.
Despite putting some flashy moves on display, including dancing around both Hudler and Cervenka before putting the puck in the back of the net, Hartley couldn’t elevate his team to victory.
“I had three months to practice them,” he joked, taking the defeat in stride.
But the shinny session was about more than wins and losses. It was about establishing and cultivating a particular environment for the players in the dressing room, said Hartley.
“Jacques and I had this going in Colorado and players always want to beat the coaches,” he said. “We push hard but at the same time it was a great workout before and after this to show we’re very demanding but this game is about fun. You want guys to come at the rink with a smile and I think it makes it easier on everyone. That’s the culture we’re trying to establish over here.”
Judging by the players’ reactions when receiving the trophy, it was mission accomplished for Hartley, who will now turn his focus on helping the rest of his roster win the first installment of the ‘Battle Of Alberta’ Saturday at Scotiabank Saddledome.