SUN Hockey Pool

Fun, jokes and games

STEVE MACFARLANE -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 3:05 PM ET

TORONTO -- It was an odd sight.

The Calgary Flames practising as intensely as ever: Skating hard and competing against each other even harder.

In a way, it looked a lot like the type of on-ice workout NHL teams are subjected to after lacklustre losses, not shutout victories like the 1-0 result they posted in Ottawa Thursday night.

But there was a noticeable difference.

Smiles.

They were everywhere and no one was trying to hide them. On the players' faces. On some of the coaches' faces. On the ice, in the hallway.

Their grins couldn't be contained even knowing the notorious Toronto media vultures would be waiting when they stepped through the boards at the Lake Shore Lions practice facility in Etobicoke yesterday. Naturally they would want to talk about Calgary's lack of goal-scoring and how it will factor into tonight's matchup with the Maple Leafs at the ACC (5 p.m.).

What a difference a day makes.

"When you're working hard and winning, it's fun. You can laugh and joke," agreed Calgary defenceman Andrew Ference yesterday after a lengthy session followed by some good old-fashioned fooling around on the ice. "That's the kind of environment that we want to create and really foster."

While the team didn't openly admit it, their mood prior to the current four-game road trip was less than sunny.

Practices leading up to Thursday's down-to-the-wire victory were equally intense as yesterday's but there was no hint of humour.

If a lip was raised, it was only to stuff in a little chewing tobacco. Or in the coaches' case, to form a motivating word or two for their charges.

But the win over the Senators seems to have lifted almost everyone's spirits. The Flames are back to .500 and look much more like the focused but loose club that enjoyed itself for much of last year while winning the Northwest Division crown and earning a second straight playoff appearance.

But that accomplishment, along with the memorable plight two seasons ago, might have been part of the reason the fun seemed to be missing at the start of this new campaign.

All the talk about the Flames not playing to their identity throughout the pre-season and so far in the games that count was premature. They hadn't even re-established it themselves.

"Our team had to take a deep, good hard look at ourselves in these last few days and figure out what we really are," said second-year Flame Tony Amonte, who acknowledged the Sens game was a major stepping stone. "We're a working team. We're not a finesse team. We're not going to be a finesse team."

If Thursday's win and yesterday's practice are good indicators, the Flames appear to be growing comfortable in their own skin once again.

And being on the road is the perfect way to do a little collective soul-searching as a team.

"It's good to get on the road," said Ference. "We knew before we left it's a big opportunity to have these four games -- (to) get points but also to really come together as a team and really strongly identify who we are.

"Because we can't just carry over who we were from the Stanley Cup run or who we were from last year. We have some new guys, we have a new group and we really have to build back that character."

The shutout was a step in the right direction.

And if the Flames' hard work pays off over the next few days, they could be having a lot more fun by the time they return to Calgary.


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