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Flames eager to build off success from last season

by Aaron Vickers

CALGARY -- The narrative around the Calgary Flames has changed dramatically in 12 months.

One year ago, the Flames were among the teams expected to be near the bottom of the NHL standings and contend for a lottery pick. But on the eve of the 2015-16 season, expectations are that Calgary can contend for the Pacific Division title and make another run in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

That is the power of a 97-point performance last season and a trip to the second round of the playoffs for the first time in 11 years.

The Flames are ready to pick up right where they left off. The quest begins Wednesday when Calgary hosts the 2015 Molson Canadian NHL Face-Off, an all-day hockey festival before the Flames open their season at Scotiabank Saddledome against the Vancouver Canucks (10 p.m. ET; SN, TVA Sports 2).

The organization is pumped up for the new season.

"I think it's awesome," general manager Brad Treliving said. "You just feel the build-up. You feel the energy of things coming. Everybody's ready. It's time to play. I think that's great. I think it's a feather to the community, the fan base, the organization, everything. We saw it here. We know we're pretty lucky to have the support and the following for our team, our game, here. I thought it was a great decision, a wise decision. I think it's hats off … It's because the people of our community they make that decision. Good for them."

The Flames, who saw a 20-point increase last season, are now front and center, literally and figuratively.

"It's great. It's great," coach Bob Hartley said of being in the opening-night spotlight. "Obviously with all the preparation we did over the summer, everything that has been going on, summers are great but you're always looking forward to that first day of training camp. Enough meetings; it's time to play. We're here to play. We're here to win games and that's always what we're challenging ourselves to do. It's a great setup. We have a great group. It's a fun group to coach. We're eager to start [Thursday] night."

There's reason for optimism in Calgary.

As part of their breakout season, the Flames qualified for the playoffs for the first time since 2009 and, in ousting the Canucks in six games of the Western Conference First Round, they won a series for the first time since losing to the Tampa Bay Lightning in the 2004 Stanley Cup Final.

Brandon Bollig, who was part of the Chicago Blackhawks' Cup-winning team in 2013, can sense the enthusiasm.

"They're excited," he said of the fans. "Every time we go out to eat or do anything throughout the city they're pretty pumped. You can tell in the preseason they were all pumped and how loud they would get during everything that went on and all the games. Seeing how supportive these fans are for us here in Calgary, it's even more of a reason to go out there and get wins for them and ultimately bring the Cup back here to Calgary. They've experienced it before, but it's been a while. I can't imagine a city that's much more fun to win a championship in than Calgary."

A 97-point season. A trip to the second round of the playoffs. The addition of defenseman Dougie Hamilton and forward Michael Frolik. An extra year of development for young forwards Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan. The potential burst from playoff cult hero Micheal Ferland and a full season of Sam Bennett, the fourth player taken in the 2014 NHL Draft.

All lead to heightened expectations.

That's good, suggested captain Mark Giordano.

"I think we have to use that as motivation," said Giordano, who missed the final 21 games of last season and Calgary's playoff run after sustaining a torn biceps tendon in late February. "There's heightened expectations, but we've always had those expectations internally.

"Last year we believed we were a playoff team, and we do again. We're looking forward to getting better and on paper today, if you look at our roster, we do look like a deeper, better roster. Now as players, we have to bring that and prove it on the ice. If you ask a lot of teams, they are going to feel like they got better this offseason as well. We have to be prepared right from Day 1. I think our start last year was huge. We'll go from there.

"We're not going to get overconfident or cocky or anything like that, but there should be a bit more confidence with the experience."

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