Pack mind-set in place

RANDY SPORTAK, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:02 AM ET

Dismiss it as a buzz word or a catch phrase.

Think it's more hokey than hockey, if you want.

But the mantra new head coach Brent Sutter is regularly hitting his charges with in anticipation of the coming season -- "pack mentality" -- is exactly what was missing among the Calgary Flames the past couple of seasons.

An identity.

Among the litany of reasons the Flames spun their wheels the past couple of years under head coach Mike Keenan was the lack of an identity. When Darryl Sutter was at the helm, they knew what kind of team they were supposed to be.

It was hammered into them.

Sure, Darryl Sutter's use of the word "identity" almost became ad nauseam, but it was effective.

It shouldn't come as a shock, but Brent Sutter is bringing an identity back to the Flames dressing room.

Play like a wolf pack.

Sutter's concept of a pack mentality involves structure, with everyone perfectly playing their part.

"I want us to play like a team. It shouldn't matter which guys go over the boards -- you're structured to play the same way," Sutter explained.

"Obviously, some guys are more talented than others and can do a few things differently with the puck and so forth, but you have to have a foundation of how you're playing as a team.

"That has to be your security blanket, and it doesn't matter who's in the lineup -- you know that's the way the Calgary Flames are playing. Then, when you deal with adversity through the year, as a player you know and you trust what you're doing works.

"It's not about one person. It's about everybody and everyone doing alike and thinking alike.

"It includes everything that's involved in the game through the night. It's being a team. It's caring for each other, trusting each other, feeling good about each other, challenging each other in all positive ways and no one taking it personally.

"At the end of the day, it's about one thing, and that's winning.

"Winning as a group."

That mantra isn't the only message this year's Flames team is being hit with by Sutter and his coaching staff.

Becoming stronger defensively is a big goal.

Being aggressive on the forecheck is another.

Cutting out neutral-zone turnovers is the plan, too.

Still, so much of the game plan can be boiled down to the pack-mentality ideal.

"It's being on the same page," said Flames left-winger Curtis Glencross. "We're a team that's going to win together. Unless five guys on the ice are on the same page, we're not going to win."

When last season ended, the lack of structure was painfully evident. The perception remained the Flames were an in-your-face, hard-to-play-against squad, but that wasn't the case.

They had become too passive and struggled to win in crunch-time.

Which is why players who thrived under Darryl Sutter's coaching are more than happy to welcome back any form of an identity.

"It changed a lot last year," said Flames veteran centre Craig Conroy. "One day, we were trying to be defensive, the next trying to have more offence. We changed what we were doing a lot last year. After the San Jose game (a 6-1 mid-November thrashing), it changed again.

"It seems like it's very cut-and-dry this year. This is the way it's going to be, and it's easier when you just know what you're supposed to do.

"There's going to be a definite system in place."

And no lone wolves outside of the circle.

RANDY.SPORTAK@SUNMEDIA.CA


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