It'll be Mike's way or ...

STEVE MACFARLANE -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 8:34 AM ET

Mike Keenan is not here to rule with an iron fist.

The reputation Calgary's newest coach brings is that of a tyrant.

Tantrums, bag skates and potential public humiliations probably crossed the minds of most players and fans after news broke late Wednesday night the Flames were bringing the veteran bench boss on board. But the 'my way or the highway' approach that is considered Iron Mike's calling card is a little unfair.

After all, none of us know Keenan personally. He should start with a clean slate. While Keenan admits he has earned parts of the nasty reputation that preceded him, there's a softer side that hasn't often been exposed in public forum.

"Some of it's earned, some of it's unearned. It's really taken on a life of its own at certain points where it was blown out of proportion. And there's no sense trying to hold it back because you can't control it," Keenan said yesterday after being introduced to the local media by Flames GM and old friend Darryl Sutter.

"I think that part of the persona you develop as being extremely firm is that maybe you're not compassionate or that you don't care.

Keenan will admit to having to having to lay down the law on occasion but compares the job to parenting.

"Sometimes you have to be firm," he said. "You try to be fair. Most often, you're always loving."

Loving? Mike Keenan? The guy who because of a collection of controversial relationships has been unceremoniously bounced from city to city since winning the Cup with the New York Rangers in 1994?

There has to be a catch. He can't be softening. Not now. Not when the team he's taking over needs a little kick to the backside to help them realize what they're capable of.

"Ultimately, the players have to play for each other and have to live as one. When you try to reinforce amongst the group those standards that people sometimes don't want to accept and/or deviate from, you might have to give them firm leadership and direction," Keenan said.

"At the same time, it doesn't mean you don't care for them as people, as individuals, as team members."

Don't worry, though, Keenan is still plenty tough.

He may have morphed as a coach and as a person over the years -- you must to coach in the NHL for nearly 20 years as he has -- but one thing has remained consistent: He hates to lose.

"I remember one time I was frustrated with a certain situation -- it was in Vancouver, when I went there the team had bottomed out and they had to be rebuilt," Keenan said. "I don't know if Darryl would remember saying this to me. I said, 'Boy, this is tough.' He said, 'The problem with you is you haven't lost enough.' "

Since starting out his coaching career with great results in Philadelphia, Chicago and New York, he's had plenty of practice at losing. A Keenan-coached team hasn't made the playoffs in more than a decade.

Still, you get the sense Iron Mike lurks close to the surface and if the talent-laden Flames fail to get off on the right foot, he won't hesitate to get 'firm" with his new charges. That lingering passion to coach is what convinced Sutter to bring his ex-boss into the fold.

"We wouldn't have made a change if he wouldn't have had a great desire to do it," Sutter said. "He's a fiery type guy that wants to work with a top team again."

Keenan now has that opportunity. He may even be able to fire up his new crew without the help of a whip.

Of course, it's probably hanging nearby if he needs it.


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