Training camp all over again

RANDY SPORTAK, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:11 AM ET

Sometimes the schedule maker really is your best friend.

The Flames are in the early stages of a stretch with five games -- all at home -- in 20 days.

That means a golden chance for new head coach Brent Sutter to work on all the details he's looking for within the system he's trying to implement.

In fact, it's like a second training camp, with a twist.

"With the schedule so condensed and so many things going on, to have five (games) in 20 days, where we can practice, it's valuable," said centre Craig Conroy. "It's not so much changing things, it's getting things down. 'This is where you're gonna be. This is what we're gonna do. This is how we go.' We're always learning and that's the big thing. We're learning, but it's starting to become second nature.

"The first eight games, we've had a chance to see it. But now it's going to be more engrained and move forward. This is a great time for us."

The twist stems from having played a series of games already.

After a month of explaining what he wants and then watching his team try it in games, Sutter is now able to reiterate with better results.

The players now have a greater understanding of what he's addressing, and he has a better understanding of his charges.

"These first few games have given me a good read, not just on our team but on individuals and where we need to improve," Sutter said.

"Along the way, we've been able to find ways to win games, but we've got to do it on a consistent basis."

That will come from a better grasp of the plan.

Over the practice-heavy schedule in the coming days -- which is a godsend considering how training camps are now filled with too many games and too few practice sessions -- you'll see the light bulbs going on over the players' heads.

"What's helped us now is they've had a chance to see us in games and correct the same mistakes we're making over and over," said winger Eric Nystrom. "Right now, it's a chance to really hammer it into our heads.

"Against Vancouver, we did a lot better job, but we've got to keep getting better.

"We're still making a lot of changes but now it starts to make sense and everybody's reading off each other, and it's good."

Don't buy the importance of an early season minicamp? Consider last season.

After the infamous mid-November shellacking in San Jose, the Flames had a three-day stretch of intense practices.

They went on a tear -- a 30-11-5 run -- until the effects of that injury wave took over.

"It's a good time for us to nail down things," Sutter said.

"You need a very workmanlike approach when you come to the rink on non-game days. Practice is not a day off. It's a day of work.

"It's a day of doing things we need to do to make ourselves better so we can implement it in a game."

Sutter will continue to send his message until they grasp it from the drop of the puck to the final buzzer, game after game after game.

"It's just staying with it," Sutter said.

"You know you're going to have shifts you don't play up to your standards, and there will be momentum changes at different points in the game, but it's about getting it back as quick as you can and not having three, four, five, six shifts."

RANDY.SPORTAK@SUNMEDIA.CA


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