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TEACHER BY TRADE

New associate coach Ward a powerplay specialist who excels at maximizing player potential

by GEORGE JOHNSON @GJohnsonFlames / CalgaryFlames.com

There wasn't, Geoff Ward tells you, one incisive image of that never-to-be-forgotten night at Rogers Arena seared into his consciousness.

No specific cameo-keepsake moment to adorn the front page of the photo album.

Not the second the time drained down to 00:00. Not even making the handoff to hoist over his head that big, jug-eared silver chalice they all sweat and bleed and ache for, as sweet as that was.

"For me it wasn't a moment,'' says the newly-installed Flames associate coach, harkening back his to June 15, 2011 Stanley Cup-capturing experience with the Boston Bruins.

"It was the final five minutes. The whole five.

"If you remember, we had a 3-0 lead going into those last five minutes. The time was running down and you sorta knew you were going to win.

"So for me, listening to the players on the bench as the clock ticked away in Vancouver was probably the funniest five minutes I've ever spent.

"Watching Mark Recchi, a great pro, going on top, winning another Cup, was really special.

"But hearing the guys on the bench talking about their moms driving them to rinks. The looks on all their faces. The disbelief that they were finally going to do it; that it was finally happening. For real.

"The conversations, the insights in those last five minutes were … unbelievable."

Five minutes he'd dearly love to replicate here in Calgary.

After three seasons assisting head knock John Hynes in New Jersey, Ward, a Waterloo, Ont., product, is heading north to join Bill Peters' staff at the Scotiabank Saddledome.

The 56-year-old Ward's coaching journey has taken him from his hometown university team to Kitchener of the OHL, through three separate turns in the Deutsche Eishockey Liga, seven seasons complementing Claude Julien in Boston and to the AHL Toronto-Edmonton Roadrunners/Hamilton Bulldogs in addition to his most recent gig in the Garden State.

"I wasn't really planning to make a move, to be honest,'' he confesses.

"I really enjoyed the staff and the players in New Jersey. We had a good year, a year most people would probably say was ahead of schedule. So everything was going great here.

"But then the Flames called Ray (Devils' GM Shero) to ask permission about the possibility of my coming to Calgary. When I talked to Bill (Peters) and Brad (Treliving), the opportunity seemed more and more intriguing.

"I basically grew up an Oiler, in that organization. I still know a lot of people there, have a lot of friends in Edmonton. So I'm not unfamiliar with the Battle of Alberta.

"I'm just going to be on the other side now. Looking forward to it."

Among Ward's strengths is plotting powerplays, a vital component of success or failure that the Flames struggled with last season.

"When I study powerplays … well, everybody talks about Washington's powerplay, right?'' says Ward. "The beauty of that powerplay is that it's simple. They're able to break the box down.

"They keep it simple and make adjustments at the right times.

"The biggest thing coming in (to a new situation) is that you've got to look at the strengths of your people and try to put them into a system and a formation that best suits those strengths.

"I think there's some really good pieces there in terms of powerplay personnel, it's just a matter of Bill and Ryan and I looking at what everybody brings to the table, see how we can best utilize the people at our disposal."

Unafraid of exploring new options, Ward left the Bruins for the head-coaching position with Adler Mannheim in 2014, collecting a German championship and DEL coach of the year laurels in the process.

"You know, I'd been in Boston seven years and as a coach I just needed something to sharpen my saw a little bit,'' he explains now.

"I don't want to say I was going stale in the job but I think the potential do that is there and I wanted to branch out at that point in time and so something a little different.

"Change my direction a little bit.

"Take on a new challenge."

Coming over from Jersey means a new challenge, a new part of the saw to sharpen, as well.

"Where I'm at in my coaching career, what I really enjoy - I'm a teacher by trade - is building something meaningful,'' Ward emphasizes. "I was fortunate to be part of that in Boston and also fortunate to be part of the front end of something really good that's happening in New Jersey.

"But I think the Flames are in a similar position.

"The opportunity to come in and build a program with a team that's got an awful lot of good pieces already in place its always going to be attractive.

"Bill Peters is a good hockey man. Ryan Huska's a good hockey man.

"With all the things I see in place in Calgary, we're not that far away from being a contending team."

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