The focus is to play hard, be a good example for the young guys, and try to win some hockey games here. - Matt Stajan
CALGARY, AB -- Tough sledding, it is.
One week, two practices, and three games to work through.
After that, a summer of piecing together how a season that started with such optimism will come to a close the evening of April 9.
It’s a tough seven days for the Calgary Flames.
“It’s hard. I’m not going to sugarcoat anything,” veteran centre Matt Stajan started. “It’s not the position you want to be in ever, especially as a veteran guy. You only have so many years left. You want to have a chance to win what you always dream of. The young guys maybe look at this time … they get some extra playing time and are put in situations they maybe wouldn’t be in, but these are tough games, no doubt.
“I’m sure they’re tough to watch as fans. We’ve got to make sure we’re not in this situation again next year. That’s all we can do … work hard and move forward and look for positives for next year.”
Rewind 365 days ago.
The upstart Flames were thick in the hunt of their first playoff appearance since 2009 -- one few predicted they’d catch at the start the season. Calgary would clinch, take out the Vancouver Canucks in six games in the first round, and eventually bow to the Anaheim Ducks in the second.
It was the feel-good story of the NHL.
Plenty of reason to hold heads high.
But the group stumbled in looking for similar success, to the point that the last few weeks of the regular season means little outside of salvaging a little pride.
And with two home dates remaining before a season-finale Saturday at the Minnesota Wild, the Flames will put on a brave face and try to close out the year on a positive note.
“It’s the main factor,” forward Brandon Bollig said. “Nobody got here from wanting to lose and being okay with losing. It’s unfortunate for us that we are in this position, but now that we are we’re definitely proud people. We definitely want to win the rest of the games. We want to win every game going into the season. It’s a vast majority of the rest of this week is all about pride and hard work.”
For Bollig, it’s a new experience.
Coming to Calgary by way of the Chicago Blackhawks two summers ago, the 29-year-old has never not been part of the Stanley Cup Playoffs in his NHL career.
“It’s a new experience … one that you kind of hoped that you’d never have to experience,” he said. “I’ve been lucky enough that this is my first time, but still. I think for any of us, we’re still competitive people. No one would get to this point without being competitive. You want to finish the year on a high note. You don’t want to lose the last couple of games.
“We know they don’t mean much for the standings, but we’re competitive. We got here from hard work and dedication. There’s no reason to quit with a week left. We’ve all done much harder. Just to work hard for the last week and get some wins hopefully is the goal.”
But these final few skates before the 2015-16 edition of the Flames disband for the summer isn’t the toughest the team has had to face.
Not to coach Bob Hartley.
Those have already come with the shrinking window and growing realization that there would be no invitation to the dance.
Not this year.
“I think that we passed the tough stretch,” Hartley offered. “I fully understand. It’s when you find out you’re not a playoff team … the news hits you when you have a week left and you’re going to have all summer away from the game that you love so much. That’s what we’re trying to get to our guys. That’s where your leadership group is so important.”
That’s why there’s no quit.
“I’ll never not go into a game and not give it my all,” Stajan said. “Getting up for these games is tough. You’ve got to find a way. That’s a consistency you have to have if you want to play in this league a long time. You get yourself ready to go and throw it all out there for 60 minutes tomorrow night and Thursday night. That’s what you do. People who play in this league for a long time, or even play in this league at all, you’ve always got to go out and perform.
“The focus is to play hard, be a good example for the young guys, and try to win some hockey games here.”