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Motivation rally-point for Flames

STEVE MACFARLANE, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 10:29 AM ET

Commitment has been the biggest thing missing from the Calgary Flames locker-room the past few NHL seasons.

They might not admit it openly, but players sure looked like they were taking success for granted after reaching the Stanley Cup final in 2004 and enjoying entry into the first round in every season that followed.

Until last year.

Disappointment hit a new high when the team fell short of the playoffs last spring.

The result? Motivation hasn’t been this high since ’04, as the overachievers try to prove they belonged in the battle.

Back then, in the dual role of head coach and GM, Darryl Sutter said it was them against the world.

Guess what? That mantra is back.

No one is calling them Cup contenders. Half the population doesn’t even think the Flames can make it back to the post-season. But the guys in that locker-room do.

And now there’s a chip on their shoulders.

Proving people wrong and getting to the playoffs is their sole purpose this season. Anything else — a high seed, a division title — would be a bonus. Personal statistics will be important in terms of their impact, but wins are all that matter.

This is a collection of individuals that has something to prove as a team.

Alex Tanguay is coming off an embarrassing season during which he admits he wrongly handled a lesser role with the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Humbly, he starts his second stint with the Flames where he began his first before falling out of favour with then-head coach Mike Keenan — on the top line.

There, he’s joined by equally motivated teammates Olli Jokinen and Jarome Iginla.

Goal-scoring was the Flames’ biggest problem a year ago, and Jokinen, Iginla and defenceman Jay Bouwmeester are all expecting more of a contribution in that department.

Others are looking to set career highs.

Rene Bourque and Niklas Hagman are hoping to crack the 30-goal mark, and defenceman Mark Giordano is entering a contract year with every intention of eclipsing the 11 goals and 30 points he put up in 2009-10.

Brendan Morrison was added in the final days leading into the regular season to bolster a top-six forward corps dealing with injuries, and after being cut loose from a pro tryout with the Vancouver Canucks, he’s as determined as his new teammates to prove he’s still got it.

But with Brent Sutter at the helm in Season 2 of his head coaching duties here, defence is just as important. Probably even more so.

He spent the better part of his first year preaching and practising how to play the right way without the puck.

And while coach Sutter is emphasizing more time with the puck this year and stressing speed on the attack, he won’t settle for anything less than aggressive defending and accountability.

Guys took time to buy in last year. Some may still be struggling with it a little now.

But if the team sticks to that base installed by Sutter last season and makes things easier on last year’s most valuable player in goaltender Miikka Kiprusoff, the playoffs aren’t out of the question.

And if they roll into the post-season with confidence, anything can happen from there.

twitter.com/MacfarlaneSteve


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