CALGARY, AB – For the media, covering a National Hockey League team could be paralleled with tuning into a reality TV show.
Indulge in this theory for a second.
Players are traveling North America competing in games (uh, hello Amazing Race) in confined spaces (Big Brother, anyone) like dressing rooms, planes, buses, hotels. Not to mention, a player can be booted off at a moments notice.
Yep, shy of dishing out roses and eating Dung Beetles, players’ lives are on the flip side of a nine-to-five and in a certain spotlight. If you have ever found yourself ‘accidentally’ watching a reality TV show (don’t worry, everyone loses their remote from time to time), you have likely gasped at how repulsive humans can be.
Surely, with a mic and camera running people would behave better? Nope. Because you see, after three or four days, more often than not, people forget the camera is there.
Well, over the course of an 82-game stint, it’s safe to say Flames’ players sometimes forget the media is prowling the rink, too. In fact, the media is sometimes privy to seeing players’ true colours seep on in.
Well, here’s the kicker… the Calgary Flames are all seemingly stand-up guys. Either that, or the entire team should be nominated for an Oscar.
There was not a drop of ego from captain Mark Giordano when a St. Louis reporter mistook him for rookie Mark Cundari two seasons ago. Giordano actually apologetically corrected the man to curb his embarrassment.
Giordano’s resolve rubs off on his teammates, too.
Following a close 3-2 fallout to Anaheim on March 26th, a swarm of media gravitated towards Tyler Wotherspoon. Now, this was a regular occurrence for Wotherspoon as his stall was situated next to the captain’s – where media throngs land incessantly post-game each game. Every game.
"Sorry, I'll get out of the way,” Wotherspoon said.
"No, Tyler,” replied one media member. “We're here to talk to you."
Wotherspoon notched an assist on Brian McGrattan’s goal aiding in tying the match. Yet, he was still dumfounded as to why anyone would interview him.
The word ‘hero’ and who is considered to be one is rather subjective. Coach Bob Hartley referred to the fire hat — passed around post-game — numerous times and reminded everyone that the men and women who wear those hats daily are the true heroes.
Well, this is not designed to exemplify Flames players in Superman capes — the poms-poms are tucked away (promise). However, there are a lot of Calgarian kids out there toting Flames lunch boxes and donning jerseys with every player from Monahan to McGrattan.
This has been written to suggest that, kids, you’ve made a great choice.
And now, some points to ponder:
- A day prior to the final game of the 2013-14 season, the players arrived at Rogers Arena in Vancouver. The gear was nowhere to be found and likely backed up in traffic. Now, pre-practice/pre-game time is for each player to prepare himself — everything from taping sticks to limbs. The equipment guys unload and set up the gear. It’s a well-oiled machine and everyone has a job to do. When the bags finally arrived, Flames staff started unloading. It was an overwhelming sight and quickly became evident practice would not begin on time. Cue Chris Butler.
- Butler didn’t holler for the rest of the team to follow him to the loading dock. He simply started hauling whatever cumbersome item he could unload. He definitely didn’t plan on anyone watching (but remember, media lurks!). Soon enough, the entire team was lined up at the cargo bus passing bags in an assembly line. Game 82 and still checked in. Butler exemplifies again and again his silent, unsung leadership. A true defenseman on and off the ice; hard work on the back end and behind the scenes. No glory.
- Sometimes a little glory is granted. On March 10th, rookie goaltender, Joni Ortio and his Abbotsford Heat teammate Markus Granlund made their NHL debuts. Two Finnish friends, about to step on Scotiabank Saddledome ice and live out their childhood dreams. Before the game, Flames players suggested the two newbies lead the clan onto the ice surface. However, instead of following, the rest of the team held back and gave the two rookies the first two laps alone. To soak it all up.
- Speaking of rookies, at 19, Sean Monahan embarked on his first NHL season, swapping 68 regular season games with the Ottawa 67s of the Ontario Hockey League for 82 professional games for the Flames. Let’s not forget the additional travel and media.
- Welcome to the show, kid! Monahan was a sport’s reporter’s dream, zoning in on Jarome Iginla’s 1996-97 rookie goal tally of 21 and then passing it with 22. However, the real story carved out on Twitter. It’s safe to estimate Monahan was asked about the @BoringMonahan alias account on Twitter hundreds of times. In every city. After every game. After every practice.
- On March 1st in Edmonton, Monahan made his Hockey Night in Canada debut. He had scored the overtime winner, after all. And, what’s the first thing they asked once the coveted HNIC towel was draped over his shoulder? “Who is this @BoringSeanMonahan?” Yep. And he answered thoughtfully, like he always does, in that stoic Monahan tone. (Note: The Twitter account is hilarious, FYI)
- Monanhan won the heart of Brian McGrattan: “If you were going to tell me I’d be 33 years old and hanging out with a 19-year-old – he’d be one of my best buddies…” McGrattan said. He took the kid under his wing and a drove of other rookies this past season too. “You can’t teach the way guys bond and the way guys gel together,” McGrattan said in exit interviews.
- No, you cannot, however there are rare players (people, really), such as McGrattan who are that very gel that can fuse a team. Bob Hartley couldn’t hold back laughter when he told media McGrattan lobbied to shoot in all ten shootout bids this past season. “Put me in, coach.” Hartley reiterated, “I said, ‘watch out, I just may do it one game’.” You can only imagine the tension on the bench before a shootout and there’s McGrattan calming nerves with his self-deprecating antics.
- McGrattan’s ability to alleviate anxiety drummed up in frustrating situations off the ice too. On April 1st, the team was buckled up and set to fly out of snowy Toronto to sunny Florida. The plane must have taxied a good three kilometers before McGrattan yelled from the back “Are we driving to Tampa?” Laughter ensued as the prior day loss to the Maple Leafs faded away.
- Fast-forward to balmy Tampa Bay, post-game, on the plane again. It’s late and becoming quite evident the team is losing hours to sleep before they play the Panthers the next day. Everyone sat on the tarmac for over an hour! Like clockwork, the enforcer hollers from the back “are we de-icing?” In Florida. Pure gold. All those countless, quirky moments add up.
- Now, the points added up for Giordano this season. Despite missing 18 games with a broken ankle, Giordano notched a career-high 14 goals and 47 points. As if Calgary had floated off on the flood plane, Giordano wasn’t named to Canada’s Olympic entry nor offered up as a candidate to either Norris and Hart Memorial trophies. But, hey! Giordano was a leading scorer amongst defencemen in two seasons with the OHL’s Owen Sound Attack only to then go undrafted in 2002. It’s safe to say that turned out okay for the captain.
- Turning out and showing up. Here’s a little secret: Mikael Backlund can’t say no. At least, he is very, very bad at it. The man will be at whatever charity event he can physically make it to. Simply because, he wants to be there, CBA mandated day off or not. Luckily, Flames public and community relations’ staffers control the volume of requests.
- When Matt Stajan was honoured with the J. R. McCaig Award for exemplifying qualities of kindness, integrity and respect he was quick to make sure his wife Katie was also recognized. “It’s so important to have your best friend and your partner to go through that with - there are ups and downs – and when we can make a difference in the community together, we do everything we can,” Stajan said. An entire feature could be dedicated to Flames’ wives. The common phrase ‘you can tell a lot about a man from the women on his arm” rings true.