CALGARY — This was exceptionally rare, in 25 years of watching NHL teams handle the Monday after a Super Bowl Sunday day off for the players.
A 25-minute practice — not the usual 45- to 60-minute skate, with the unspoken (or sometimes spoken) proviso that the beers enjoyed on Sunday would be sweated out on Monday.
“That was the plan,” said Flames head coach Bob Hartley of the morning skate-length workout. “You can look at my practice plan.”
OK. So the plan was to give the Flames Sunday off, then skate them for just 25 minutes on Monday. That is a super-rare coaching tactic, but Hartley is innovative, so we’ll give him the benefit of the doubt. Maybe he’s keeping the boys fresh.
It also was odd however, how that 25-minute practice ended — with Hartley calling his team into the corner of the rink, speaking sternly with them for three or four minutes, then skating through the herd of players and straight off the ice. The Flames players were left in a group to figure out if practice had indeed ended, if their coach might give them another chance, or what exactly their next move should be?
Hartley has kicked his team off the ice a few times during his tenure in Calgary. All coaches do that periodically, when attention is poor. But those who cover this team every day cannot recall a time when he walked off the practice ice and left them out there.
“He wasn’t happy with the way we were practicing,” winger David Jones said later. “It’s a little embarrassing when we’re not (making) five-foot passes.
“I think he was pretty pissed off about the way things were looking.”
Veteran winger Lance Bouma, considered a true leader here, had enjoyed a particularly ineffective practice, and was sent of the ice after about 15 minutes. Hartley said afterwards, “He wasn’t feeling good, so we removed him from the ice.”
Ah, that makes sense.
Perhaps then, that’s why roommates Sean Monahan and Bouma were seen hustling into the Saddledome at 10:15 a.m. for a 10:30 a.m. practice Monday. It just could be that Monahan lost track of time while brewing lemon tea and honey for Bouma. Or maybe it just took him a while to locate the Neti pot for his ill roomie.
Asked later on about the late arriving players, Hartley neither denied nor confirmed any late arrivals, choosing not to “air dirty laundry.”
Hartley was speaking upon special request to a small group of media, two-and-a-half hours after the practice. It had been an odd day, and Hartley was kind enough to help a few confused media types make sense of it all.
Hey, players get sick. Sometimes even on the morning after a Super Bowl party. It can happen.
As the affable Hartley kibitzed with the media however, who came upon the scene but Bouma himself. He was spotted over Hartley’s shoulder, ducking into the door to the Flames equipment room a full two-and-a-half hours after a practice he’d been sent home from due to illness.
Hmm. Strange, that.
So, let’s recap: On the day we watched the rarest of 25-minute post-Super Bowl practices, we learned of a rare late arrival by two roommates, watched a rare illness-removal from practice, followed by an even more rare return of that sick player to a dressing room that, on every other team in every other sport, he would be asked to stay away from until he was well again.
Hang around this game long enough and you’ll see it all, let me tell you.
That includes one of the sloppiest practices you’ll see from an NHL team Monday morning in Calgary, where the Flames prepared for a visit from the Toronto Maple Leafs on Tuesday night.
“That’s what the message was,” said Flames forward Joe Colborne of Hartley’s on-ice lecture. “It doesn’t matter what game number it is, 50-something, whatever. It’s hard to get up every day and be ready to play, but that’s part of being a pro. It was unacceptable, the way we were executing out there.
“We watched Super Bowl, obviously. But it’s nothing really to do with that. We’ve had problems with this throughout the year. We have a good game, and we come out with not our best effort the next game.”
As of Monday morning, Calgary was nine points out of a playoff spot with four teams to overtake and 31 games to do it. If you’re a Flames fan, and you’re already thinking about the draft, free agency, and all things next year, that’s acceptable.
If you’re a Flames player and you’re thinking that way, it’s not. Not yet.
Of course, only on the rarest of days could we see something like that happening.