Pilson: The unthinkable has happened. In a sure sign of the coming 2012 apocalypse, the Calgary Flames are back in the playoffs after Monday’s win. How the heck did they pull off the near-impossible?
Sportak: We all had them written off, but you must give them full marks for getting to this point. There are all kinds of reasons — better special teams, breaking down the schedule into segments of games, believing they can do it … But, as corny as it sounds, I’d say fun. It’s a team which is enjoying being around the rink — coaches and players — and it’s making a difference. Now that results are coming, it’s snowballing. But they’ve got to climb over the hump, not just get to the apex, and make the playoffs — and that is no slam-dunk.
MACFARLANE: Do you believe in miracles? I think it boils down to the players starting to realize that if they didn’t play the way the coach wanted, they weren’t talented enough to win. It’s come down to hard work and playing the same way no matter what the score is. They all finally bought into that concept. And once they started rolling, the confidence kicked in. They look like a completely different team mentally than the one that seemed so fragile over the first few months. Now when do the frogs start raining down on us?
PILSON: I dare not think it is simple coincidence that the sun broke through the clouds for this team after Darryl Sutter was fired … ahem … I mean resigned.
Sportak: It has to be true. When you hear players say, “We can smile after a win,” you know that negativity was a factor. Still, Steve’s right about them finally buying in. Brent Sutter also made adjustments. Some of the players in New Jersey felt he was a killjoy, and he lightened up a few months ago. It’s a different atmosphere all-around.
MACFARLANE: It’s not a coincidence the atmosphere down at the Dome is a lot more sunny, but the turnaround started before Darryl was sacked. These guys seemed to band together when the coach’s job was in jeopardy just before Christmas. If they were still losing, it’d be almost as gloomy in that building, just without the added hostility toward the media. Winning changes everything. At least one player has actually said they’re doing this FOR Darryl now. I never thought I’d become a Darryl defender, but this is still the team he put together on paper, and he must be thinking, ‘I told you so,’ right now. Or something nastier.
Pilson: Biggest story of the week was Ference-gate. A player was finally honest about a hit, Don Cherry called him out, and our colleague Eric Francis called Cherry out and defended Ference. Then, Cherry attacked Francis.
I side with Francis and Ference on this one. About time a player had guts to call a spade a spade. They’ll never get rid of cheap hits and head-shots if players want to bury their head in the sand and adhere to some stupid ‘code’ of the dressing room.
SPORTAK: The really absurd part is calling Ference a bad teammate. He said it was a bad hit. He never called out Paille. He just said that’s a hit they’re trying to get out of the league. Brendan Morrison, who’s no dumb guy either, said players speaking out is the only way they’re going to change this problem instead of just accepting it. It’s time for people in hockey to get out of the 1970s.
MACFARLANE: I agree with both of you. More honesty is the only way to change the game, and the league’s dinosaurs and their ‘code’ be damned. Hey, it’s not like Ference called a press conference to bash a teammate. He was asked about the hit, gave his honest opinion and would say the same thing to his teammate’s face — and likely did. Nothing wrong with that. If the room is divided as a result, it wasn’t very strong in the first place.
Pilson: Another big story was fan-fave Craig Conroy retiring. The guy was loved by media as much as fans. He was happy, fair and realized we had a job to do. He didn’t get his jock in a knot or sulk or whine like so many players do. The Flames or the league should have him do media relations seminars for players. They could learn a lot from Connie.
SPORTAK: He gave that advice to former Flames sniper Michael Cammalleri when he came to Calgary, and look how he was embraced. Still, it must be in your personality to treat everybody like a friend. What’s amazing is Conroy was great to all the media after we all criticized the Flames for trading Cory Stillman for Conroy, then a checking centre. Happy we were wrong — and forgiven. He’ll help kids in the system on the ice, too.
MACFARLANE: Not even media training can help some of these guys. Conroy tried to make Dion Phaneuf more loveable, and look how that turned out. But I think keeping him around after what seemed to be poor timing in terms of ‘forcing’ him to retire mid-season saved that feel-good dressing room atmosphere. He has that effect on everyone.