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'I'M READY TO GO'

Backlund talks about productive camp and week of practice ahead before season-opener

by RYAN DITTRICK @ryandittrick / CalgaryFlames.com

The fieldwork is officially in the rearview. 

Now, the real fun begins. 

"It's been a great camp," said Mikael Backlund. "It's good to go into a new season when you know the coach, know what to expect, what type of drills he runs and what time of system he wants to use.

"We all got some games under our belt and knocked the rust off.

"In a perfect world, I would have liked to play on Wednesday of next week (when most of the teams open their season), but it is what it is and we'll have some time now to get everyone rested and recovered.

"We have a big week ahead of us to make sure we stay sharp in practice, but we're pumped.

"I'm ready to go."

We all know that at this time of year, wins and losses have no bearing on the standings, and usually offer little insight into how the campaign will play out over 82 games. That's the preseason for you. But to see progression from game to the next? That's where the true value lies.

The Flames got that, playing far and away their best game of the exhibition slate when they knocked off the Winnipeg Jets 3-1 on Friday at the Scotiabank Saddledome. 

Their special teams were on point, with the powerplay going 2-for-4 and the penalty-kill, flawless, in four turns. 

Jacob Markstrom was unflappable in the paint - his lone blemish, a third-period strike off the stick of Logan Stanley. He finished the night with a .957 save percentage, thanks to the 22 pucks he swatted aside. 

Their details were sharp and they managed the puck better than they have at any point in the past two weeks. 

What this means for the regular-season opener remains to be seen. But the foundation has been poured and the Flames have now turned their attention to the business at hand: Oct. 16. 

The Battle of Alberta. 

The beginning of a new chapter as the franchise makes another run at the ultimate prize.

"I'm sure Darryl and the staff has a great plan for us to get ready throughout the week," Backlund said of the unique schedule that has the Flames waiting on the tarmac for the first three days of the season. "Every day will have a special theme, I'm sure. That's what it's been like before when we've had these breaks. ... It's going to be a good week and it's important that we approach it like it's a regular-season or playoff game day - full intensity. 

"Because when the puck drops next Saturday, Edmonton will already have a game under their belt, and they also have the best player in the world on their team. 

It's going to be an exciting, fun game. It's the Battle of Alberta with fans again... pretty cool."

 

 

'Intensity' is the name of the game. 

Since training camp broke on Sept. 23, the Flames have been skating at full tilt. A plan is in place, the white board is put away, and the cadence from one drill to the next is not only done by design - it's awfully impressive. 

"Since Day 1, they've sent out a 'practice sheet' the day before," Backlund said. "It's also posted in the dressing room first thing in the morning. 

"It's great. You always know what to expect. Between the whistles, you grab a quick water and move on to the next drill.

"It's very business-like and it's led to some great practices over the past few weeks."

Expect the same over the next week as the Flames gear up for the Oilers. 

Something the team has made clear to this point is that they can't afford another slow start. It cost them - dearly - in the abbreviated campaign last year, and the Flames have no intention of repeating the same, sub-.500 play out of the chute. 

Yes, the Flames have turned the page. 

But the lessons of last year linger. 

As they should.

"It was really disappointing," Backlund said. "Just a bad start and we could never quite catch up. We were chasing the whole year.

"In a short season, you never want to do that. Chasing takes so much energy from you. Mental and physical. One day, you'd like up the standings and be like, 'Oh yeah, we're only two points behind them!' And then you lose one, and you're like, 'Ugh, it's four.' You win, you lose, and other teams around you are putting together streaks - suddenly it's six or eight points.

"So frustrating.

"And that's the way it was for us, all year.

"It was hard. It wasn't easy at all. Losing during a COVID season - and, listen, many others had it so much worse than us and we're thankful that we got to play at all - but the circumstances surrounding the year and the world we live in, made having a losing season even more difficult.

"But we've parked that. I thought we took some steps late last year and we've taken a few more from the first preseason until now, and we're excited to carry that in the regular season."

What better way to kick things off than a date with your bitter archrival?

Sure, they've met twice already in the preseason, but nothing beats a packed house with points on the line. 

It's been too long. 

"It's going to be great," Backlund said. "When the schedule came out, that was the first thing I saw and I was pumped. I couldn't have picked a better way to start. 

"All the guys are going to be fired up and we know it's going to be a really good atmosphere.

"I can't wait."

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