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Gulutzan said the message to his players is clear - time to kick it into high gear

by GEORGE JOHNSON @GJohnsonFlames /

The Bugatti Veyron 16.4 may be able to go from 0-100 km/h in 2.4 seconds.

But going from stock still to high speed in no time flat is a tricky thing to do.

So the message from pit row and crew chief Glen Gulutzan was loud and clear Friday:

Gentlemen, start your engines.

"There's no real on-off switch,'' the Flames coach was saying following a taxing hour-long skate at the Scotiabank Saddledome. "And there's certainly a difference between night and day, between the pre-season and the regular-season.

"They know that difference.

"But it's like idling in a car. Sometimes you've got to push these guys when they're idling in the car.

"You've got to poke them in order to get the car in gear."

You want to avoid dawdling off the start line once the race does begin and be reduced to playing catch-up until the checkered flag.

In the wake of a sub-par 3-1 pre-season loss at Vancouver Thursday night, and with only one dress rehearsal (7 p.m. Scotiabank Saddledome vs. the Winnipeg Jets) remaining before the curtain rises and the footlights flicker to life Wednesday three hours north of here, the Flames were put through their paces on Friday.

Back, forth. To, fro.

Hither, yon. Stop, start.

"My message in the room is that we were in a 100-metre dash and were only prepared to run 90,'' said Gulutzan, of the residue of dissatisfaction left over from the west coast. "We have to pick it up a notch.

"I thought today's practice was fantastic for getting home at 2 (a.m.) and coming here. They worked. It's a testament to the group's character.

"But our message today was 'Let's get going.' There's no excuses. We need to up it a degree. We need to run those 10 extra yards.

"We did that today. We need guys to find their games, find their intensity and battle level, right way. Not one guy. All the guys."

Video: Gulutzan said the players showed their character

The pre-season is annually used as a feeling-out period, a time for refreshing and building towards opening night, particularly for the old hands. 

So there's a delicate balance to be struck.

Don't undersell pre-season's importance.

Yet, don't be duped into reading too much into it, either.

"The mindset to do the right things will change once the regular season hits,'' said goaltender Mike Smith. "I'm sure of that."  

Many an exhibition dynamo over the years has fizzled and faded from view as soon as the real bullets start flying. And vice-versa.

"I think our understanding of the game and everything's right there, where we want it to be,'' echoed winger Kris Versteeg.

"Now it's about doing it on the ice.

"You talk about how you've gotta compete, whether it's exhibition or the regular season. There's definitely no panic button in here.

"As a team, it's just an understanding that we know we're a good team and we're not playing up to standard in exhibition.

"We need to fix that (Saturday)."

The foundation for success is in place in Gulutzan's opinion, with this being his second September in command.

"It's not structural things that are breaking down. Are we fatigued a bit, the way we've pushed them? Maybe. But we've got a plan to come out the other side of that.

"I'm gonna tell you this: It's been a hard camp. That was part of our strategy, my strategy - I'll take the blame for it. We've done a lot of competitive (drills), a lot of skating in morning skates. Not many breathers in the length of practice.

"I know there are guys who feel it's been a very hard camp. Almost like a wrestling camp, right? Wrestle a guy for three minutes, it's tough.

"We've got that motto in our dressing room, you guys have seen it: It's not just going to happen, you've got to make it happen."

The Oilers, with Connor McDavid buckled into the driver's seat, are sure to be straightaway, pedal-to-the-metal when the curtain rises Wednesday at Rogers Place.

"We just have to understand the way we've played in pre-season isn't going to win us very many hockey games that matter,'' acknowledged defenceman Michael Stone.

"We've seen spurts of the way we want to play. But not enough of them to be satisfying."

Leaving one more rehearsal lap, and four days of practice, to put the car into gear.

"We have to approach (the Jets), each of us, by doing whatever we can to make it feel like this is it,'' said Stone. "So let's get going.

"Yes, it is still a pre-season game.


"We need to prepare as if it's go-time. Because go-time is almost here."


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