SUN Hockey Pool

No playoffs, renewed hunger for Flames?

STEVE MacFARLANE, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 5:17 PM ET

Fat from five straight years at the playoff trough, the Calgary Flames lacked hunger.

It often showed in the way they played, failing to find a spark in their bellies on too many nights.

They’re starving for spring hockey now, like a chubby kid at school trying to trade his fruit snack for something more substantial during lunch hour.

But it’s too late for the Flames to swap their season of suffering for a chance to sip from Lord Stanley’s mug.

Cut off from the playoffs for the first time since a seven-year drought ended in 2004, those who survive what could be a summer full of change might be able to use the empty feeling as motivation for something some might have been taking for granted.

They don’t get paid for the playoffs, but it is what they are ultimately playing for.

“I’ve never missed the playoffs here, but it’s not a good feeling,” said winger David Moss.

“I’m sure over the course of the playoffs, when you’re seeing other teams playing and wishing you were there, hopefully the summertime will be a time to reflect, and the guys that are here next year will come back with a renewed passion or desperation or whatever it is knowing that the playoffs are something special and you’ve got to work to get there.

“If you looked at our team at the beginning of the year, I think we had as good a chance as anyone to make a run. There’s teams that are in the playoffs now that at the beginning of the year, you might have thought have no chance of being there.

“It speaks to the parity of the league, and that you can’t take anything for granted.”

It also suggests the Flames didn’t work hard enough, consistently enough, to make the difference when it comes to teams that aren’t loaded with elite talent.

Looked at as a top club in the Western Conference when the season opened, it was hard to argue with the talent.

Jarome Iginla, Olli Jokinen, Rene Bourque, Daymond Langkow and a group of younger, capable forwards that included Moss, Dustin Boyd and Nigel Dawes were expected to be able to score by committee with the loss of Michael Cammalleri.

Just try to name a more dynamic defence than the one that featured a top three of Jay Bouwmeester, Robyn Regehr and Dion Phaneuf, and was bolstered by rising star Mark Giordano and veteran Cory Sarich.

Miikka Kiprusoff is still one of the game’s best goaltenders.

But all that talent achieves nothing without sacrifice on a nightly basis, without commitment and confidence.

There wasn’t nearly enough of that, which frustrated new head coach Brent Sutter the way it has his predecessors Mike Keenan, Jim Playfair and GM Darryl Sutter himself since that surprise run in ‘04.

Professional players shouldn’t need a kick in the pants.

Missing the playoffs shouldn’t be the biggest motivating factor.

But it might turn out that any remaining members of this year’s flop will show the desperation that was missing next season to make sure it doesn’t happen again.

“This is a feeling we all try to avoid,” said Sarich. “And it really sucks.

“It’s just more fuel to the fire.”

The fire in their bellies will burn all summer without a taste of the playoffs.

With any luck, it won’t get extinguished.

steve.macfarlane@sunmedia.ca


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