Nothing like a Flames winning streak to change the conversation in Calgary

The hockey headlines in Calgary these days have changed in tone from dark and depressing to levity and light.

Interim coach Geoff Ward pushing all the right buttons since taking over

Calgary Flames' Zac Rinaldo, top, celebrates after scoring his first goal of the season in a win over the Los Angeles Kings on Saturday. (Larry MacDougal/Canadian Presss)

The hockey headlines in Calgary these days have changed in tone from dark and depressing to levity and light.

In the background, for now, is talk of former head coach Bill Peters and his dismissal for racist comments uttered a decade ago to minor leaguer Akim Aliu. Also on the backburner is the storyline of a disengaged Flames team playing far below its potential.

Instead, Calgarians are gushing over the sudden five-game winning streak under interim head coach Geoff Ward. They're celebrating the fact Tobias Rieder — who went the entire 2018-19 season without a goal for the Edmonton Oilers — won a car last Thursday for a fan by scoring a shorthanded marker during the in-house Minute to Win It promotion.

They're laughing over the fight that broke out during a TV timeout Saturday between L.A. Kings forward Kyle Clifford and Flames newcomer Zac Rinaldo.

 "I was watching the girls trying to shovel the ice and they looked terrified as these guys were getting ready to drop their gloves," Ward said with a laugh after the Flames dispatched the Kings 4-3 on Hockey Night in Canada.

"I don't think we've ever seen a fight when the shovelers are out there," remarked forward Milan Lucic, who notched a goal in two of the past four games after going without in his first 27.

"I thought he was fighting the goalie for a second," netminder Cam Talbot said of Rinaldo. "I was ready."

While the hockey world grapples with the fallout from the Peters firing — and with allegations streaming about abusive practices in coaching — the Flames (16-12-4) are trying to block it all out and concentrate on turning around their season.

No one in Calgary is about to start planning playoff parties on the Red Mile — even with a road wins over Buffalo and home victories over Ottawa, Buffalo and Los Angeles.

The Flames then stopped Colorado's six-game winning streak with a back-and-forth OT victory on Monday.

The real test continues this week with another road date in Arizona before returning home to face Toronto and Carolina.

"Every game for us is a big game," Ward said. "We've got to start getting some traction. We've got to start getting some points back, so we can start climbing the standings and put ourselves back in the playoff chase."

After officially taking over Nov. 29 from Peters, Ward sat down with all his players one-on-one.

Milan Lucic is congratulated by interim coach Geoff Ward after scoring his first goal as a Calgary Flame in a game against Buffalo last week. (Larry MacDougal/Canadian Press)

He talked with them about their families. He chatted about their hobbies. He listened to their opinions about their own performance and that of a team that looked nothing like the group that finished first last season in the Western Conference.

Ward, a former school teacher, also shuffled his lines in an attempt to capitalize on the depth the Flames possess. Down to the third line went superstar Johnny Gaudreau. Up to the first line came hard-working sophomore Andrew Mangiapane.

Gaudreau's recent struggles are a favourite topic of conversation in cubicle land and construction sites across southern Alberta. Gaudreau tied  Nathan MacKinnon for seventh overall in scoring last season with 99 points. This season, Gaudreau is ranked 69th with just 23 points in 31 games prior to Monday's action.

On Saturday, the Scotiabank Saddledome erupted when Gaudreau danced up the ice. The wee winger eluded four Los Angeles Kings before feeding Sean Monahan for his eighth goal of the season.

Maybe, just maybe, the man they call Johnny Hockey is back.

"He's got a little bit of that swagger back," Ward said. "He's done a great job of giving himself to the team. Because he's in that team frame of mind, he's had two really good games."

During this five-game winning streak, the most dangerous trio on the Flames has been Derek Ryan in the middle between Lucic and Dillon Dube, a recent call-up from the Stockton Heat of the American Hockey League.

"I just think it's four lines deep right now," Dube said. "It could be the group before us that wears them down and we jump on the ice, they're scrambling and we have momentum.

"It's just been really good energy by our team."


Vicki Hall

Freelance writer

Vicki has written about sports in Canada for more than 15 years for CBC Sports, Postmedia, the Calgary Herald and the Edmonton Journal. She has covered five Olympic Games, 10 Grey Cup championships and one Stanley Cup Final. In 2015, Vicki won a National Newspaper Award for sports writing and is a member of the Canadian Football Hall of Fame Selection Committee.


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