Flames have drive to win

TERRY JONES -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 11:27 AM ET

 CALGARY -- Tonight, should the Calgary Flames become the most unlikely club ever to win the Stanley Cup, let it be recorded that it began at a most unlikely location.

 "True story,'' began coach and GM Darryl Sutter on the eve of Game 6 yesterday.

  "It was the NHL All-Star break and I drove up to Cranbrook, B.C., to watch my son Brett play for the Kootenay Ice. I was driving home thinking about practice and what we were going to do to get ready for the last 28 games. All that stuff. I thought about it between the Frank slide and Longview. Geez, on a drive like that you can think about lots of stuff. But I'm thinking 28 divided by four ...''

 That's when he put together the plan to sell his hockey club - one which had finished 22nd overall the year before, one which hadn't played a playoff series in eight seasons, one which hadn't won a playoff series since 1989. On that 110-km stretch in the Crowsnest Pass, a ranch community just west of High River, about 75 km southwest of Calgary, Sutter dreamed up the concept of playing each grouping of seven games as if it was a best-of-seven playoff series.

 THEY BOUGHT IN

 The Flames bought into it.

 "You know how you get them to buy into it?'' asked Sutter. "Because they all wanted to make the playoffs so bad. You have to remember we had a lot of guys who weren't in the playoffs before. You have to understand, to them it was like some sort of endless journey. To break it up for them gave them a focus.''

 Yesterday the players were talking about how they may not have had any playoff experience before, but in effect this is now their eighth playoff series.

 Robyn Regehr, the defenceman who made Team Canada for the World Cup of Hockey off his play down the stretch and in the playoffs, said it worked.

 "We just bought into it because we knew that's what we had to do to just make the playoffs. Once we made it in, we knew what we had to do to continue to be successful. So it's very simple.''

 It's how the Flames managed to get to within one win of carrying the Stanley Cup here tonight.

 "It put us in that mindset of what it takes to concentrate on a set number of games. We knew we needed to basically win all four of those series just to make the playoffs. We all learned very valuable things.''

 Andrew Ference, the Sherwood Park product who has made as big a name for his eloquence off the ice as for his play on the ice this post-season, was basically elected as team spokesman while guys like Jarome Iginla and Miikka Kiprusoff stayed away from the rink yesterday.

 He explained the way it is with this improbable dream team as they face the dream-come-true game of their lives.

 "I think every little victory we've had along the way, we've enjoyed for a short time. One of the biggest things our team has done is not get too excited. I think we've kept a very even keel. We know we can celebrate after the fact and that there's plenty of time to get all worked up and let the emotions run wild when we have actually accomplished something.''

 That said, it's not as though they haven't stopped to savour the scene, which gets more and more mind-boggling with every win, peaking with 60,000 fans on the 'Red Mile' of 17 Avenue after the Game 5 overtime win in Tampa Thursday night.

 "It's a fine line. To a certain extent we have embraced the excitement that the city has brought, the people on the streets, cars painted, flags flying. I mean, it's neat to see that on an everyday level. But you also have to be able to block that out. We've stayed with an even-keel approach where we are not getting too excited about it.

 "I went to 17 Avenue after the last two series wins. But it's like I almost don't want to see it. I think a lot of guys will be honest with you and tell you that if we don't win the Stanley Cup we'll be very disappointed. We wouldn't have said that at the start of the season. We wouldn't have said that in Round 1. But we've put ourselves in this position. We won't be happy without winning it all. That's kept us in check where we enjoy the celebrations, enjoy the people, but at the same time don't see the point in getting too excited until we actually win it because that's all that matters to us.

 "We can appreciate everything after the fact and we can soak it all up. I'm sure if we do the job, the excitement will be around for a long time for us to enjoy.''

 Winning the Stanley Cup is winning the Stanley Cup, but if it ends up the Flames go down in history as the most unlikely team ever to win it, does that make it even better?

 EXCITING NO MATTER WHAT

 "Not having won one before, I think it would be just as exciting no matter how you did it,'' Ference said of the question I'd posed to end his press availability session.

 "I don't know how players on other teams felt when they won, but I know how I'd feel about how proud I would be about doing something that I knew was so tough. I mean, I know how hard I've worked. And the cool thing is that I can look across the room at every single guy and know that they've worked just as hard.''

 If they do win it, maybe the parade route should be from the Frank slide to Longview.


Videos

Photos