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Flames ready to 'come out hot' for training camp, NHL's Phase 3 of 'Return to Play'

Calgary Flames GM Brad Treliving
Calgary Flames GM Brad Treliving

From the Czech Republic to Carneys Point, Sweden to St. Louis, the Calgary Flames have spent the last four months putting in work, despite being amid a global pandemic due to the COVID-19 outbreak.

So, no, Brad Treliving isn’t concerned about the shape of his players when they hit the ice Monday at Scotiabank Saddledome for training camp Phase 3 of the National Hockey League’s ‘Return to Play’ plan.

But what the Flames general manager is hoping to see from their 19-day preparation period for a best-of-five series against the Winnipeg Jets to “play-in” to the Stanley Cup postseason is the level of competition, the overall mood of the group, and just how seriously they’re taking the next few steps as hockey makes a comeback.

“They know they’ve got something to prove — it means nothing to the outside world,” Treliving said. “(The media’s perspective) is not our focus. Our focus is the guy across the room and sitting beside them. They think they have a good team and want to prove to each other at this time of the year that they’re capable of doing something special. So, that’s what excites me, is the seriousness of the number of people who have been here for as long as they’ve been here and the way they’ve gone about their business. It hasn’t been summer hockey the last couple weeks, it’s been getting ready to play.”

The Flames — and the rest of the NHL — have been anticipating this day for months, when they can finally get back to what they do best.

Salvaging the 2019-20 season has resulted in a creative approach to the schedule with an entire play-in round before the actual playoffs begin. But first, they have nearly three weeks of preparation before heading to Edmonton’s Rogers Place to begin their quest to the Stanley Cup.

And that starts with a 35-man roster which will be whittled down to 31 who’ll enter a ‘bubble’ of isolation when they arrive at the NHL hub on July 26 and continue training camp with one exhibition game against an unknown opponent.

“Every player is making a sacrifice,” Treliving pointed out. “It’s unusual circumstances, but we’re here to win so you owe it to your group to play the best 20 (players). I have a good feeling Johnny Gaudreau is going to be one of the 20, I’m just guessing. Tkachuk? I think he’s going to be one of the 20 … but we’re going into a best-of-five — we don’t have a long wrap-up time … so there will be competition.”

When the Flames announced their training camp roster over the weekend, it included the usual suspects. But it also included players who were up and down between the team’s American Hockey League club and the NHL, like Matthew Phillips, Austin Czarnik, and Buddy Robinson, along with Stockton Heat standouts Glenn Gawdin, Adam Ruzicka, and defender Alexander Yelesin. They also invited newly signed Connor Mackey, who spent last season at Minnesota State, although he is not permitted to participate in Phase 4.

For the next three weeks, players will ease into action with “ease” being the key word.

“They’re excited, they’re going to come out hot like everyone else,” Treliving said. “But we’ve talked a lot over the last several weeks with the coaching staff, you have to watch that a little bit, right? As much as the play-in series isn’t that far away. From a playing standpoint, we still have three weeks. You’ve gotta be careful you don’t leave it all on the table and by Wednesday, you’re trying to recover. I know just talking with the guys and being around them, they’re eager. You can see in talking with them … they’re all ready to get going.”

But instead of eight or so exhibition clashes to prepare, then an 82-game regular-season schedule before playoffs, they have less than three weeks.

“The key is getting them into as many game-type scenarios as you can,” Treliving said. “I’m anxious to see it all but I know what they’re all about. This isn’t something where we have 35 new faces and we’re wondering (about them) … getting them into as much game scenarios are critical and we’ll be doing that over the three weeks, for sure.”

Treliving said the new CBA prohibits the usual fitness testing at training camp, which means the Flames are reliant on reports from strength and conditioning coach Ryan van Asten along with the medical staff.

The NHL has also mandated that clubs do not comment on players’ health or absences from practices, which could happen more frequently than usual given the length of time they have been off the ice.

Yes, there are many changes to their world and, according to Treliving, that includes, potentially, the roster they put together on Aug. 1.

“I’m not a big believer in where we ended in March carries over to August, I don’t believe in that,” Treliving said. “You’re going to have to create your own momentum. But we are starting fresh and ultimately, we’re going with the best 20 (players). There’s also competition for special teams, there’s competition for more ice. We all know the group of players we expect to be there. The job of the people who came here, it’s a tip of the cap to them for a job well done — to be one of the 20, and if you’re not one of the 20, you have a responsibility to make the 20 ready to play.”

Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2020

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