Fast and furious.
That’s the tempo new Calgary Flames coach Mike Keenan demanded from the moment his team first took the ice at training camp. While it certainly will be an adjustment for all those involved, team captain Jarome Iginla is confident the Flames will be a team to contend when their season begins on Oct. 4 against the visiting Philadelphia Flyers.
“He definitely likes things quick,” Iginla said of his new boss. “You know, for our first day, I think we were out there for an hour or just under, which was great. But it was probably one of our hardest (practices). He said things really quickly and there wasn’t much break between whistles and drills. I get the feeling he likes things very high tempo.”
Familiar with Keenan’s demands as a coach, Iginla came into camp with his hard hat on. He and many of his teammates spent the summer in the gym, knowing full well they’d have to be in excellent shape once camp began.
”One of the things that followed his reputation is (his) demand for having guys in shape,” Iginla said. “We’ve been here for a long time and we wanted to be in shape and all that. I’d say, as a group, we looked a little thinner and probably took a little bit extra care of ourselves. He doesn’t make a big deal out of too many things. He just doesn’t like it if guys are not in shape. I guess there’s a lot of truth to that if you get stuck on the bike, you’re not in shape. Most of us are probably in the best shape we’ve been on the team, and a lot of credit goes to him.”
Three games into the preseason, the Flames remain winless and have been shut out twice, including a 4-0 decision at Vancouver Wednesday night. Much like his predecessor, Darryl Sutter still Flames GM, Iginla knows that Keenan won’t stand for such defeats for very long.
“Obviously, we haven’t gotten a win yet, so he’s not that thrilled,” said Iginla, who put up 94 points last season. “But you know, it’s pretty early as far as that. But you can tell there’s definitely intensity there and that’s similar to Darryl. It’s early and all that, (but) we definitely want to get on the winning side quickly.”
In order to accomplish that, the Flames will have to achieve more success away from the Pengrowth Saddledome. Calgary went 13-20-8 on the road during the 2006-07 campaign, finishing just one point ahead of the Colorado Avalanche for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference. The Flames went 30-9-2 on home ice.
“It was tough on us to have the home record that we had, one of the top ones in the League, and then to go on the road and have one of the worst ones in the League,” Iginla said. “We were looking for answers the whole time. I don’t know if we pinned it down, but I think as a group of players, I think we can all admit that we obviously have to find a way to be better.”
So, what’s it going to take to perform better away from home – a necessary feat in order to become one of the top teams in the conference?
“We realize it wasn’t just bad breaks and bounces,” Iginla said. “There’s a lot of things to improve on. Part of it is confidence, but also it will be getting grittier and a little bit more determined. It will be nice to get off to a good start and get some good confidence and not have to hear about the road record all year.”
As far as playing on the road is concerned, Iginla and the Flames may be traveling further in the future. The NHL Board of Governors is discussing the possibility of decreasing the amount of division games, which would create the opportunity for teams to once again travel all across North America. It’s a scenario that Iginla is in favor of.
“When I first heard the schedule, getting a chance to play Edmonton and Vancouver that many times, those are two of our biggest rivals and the most intense games and the fans get into it,” Iginla said. “After going through it for a couple of years, I would be more of a fan of going back to six or seven (games). Most guys I’ve talked to would like to go back to the other schedule or a different schedule where you get to see every team. I think you like to visit different cities, rinks, get a chance to play in front of different fans.”
Fans who certainly have come to respect and admire one of the top players in the game. Remarkably, the 30-year-old Iginla is closing in on his 800th game in the NHL.
“It’s hard to believe,” Iginla said. “I turned 30 this summer, and I remember when I broke into the League and I looked at guys who were 30. I thought they have had a good career and they are just winding it down. It just felt ancient to me at the time. I hope I’m just halfway through my career. It’s been unbelievable.”