No Calgary Flames coach has had to wait as long as Bob Hartley to get behind the bench for his first game.
Now, seven-and-a-half months after being named the Flames’ new head coach, Hartley will finally see his team in action on Sunday against the San Jose Sharks at the Scotiabank Saddledome.
In the end, the 52-year-old Hartley would prefer to have a start similar to his last NHL posting but ultimately gain what was achieved with the first NHL team he coached.
Hartley piloted the Colorado Avalanche to the Stanley Cup in 2001 but his initiation in Denver was a rough one. In October of 1998, Hartley’s Avs lost the first four games, including a 4-3 opening loss at home to Ottawa. In fact, he didn’t get his first win until his sixth game. That year, his Avs finished strong losing only four of their final 20 contests while taking first place in the Northwest Division. Clearly he’d like that type of finish with the Flames.
While he got off to a rocky start in Colorado, his start in Atlanta proved to be the exact opposite. Hartley’s first game as the Thrashers’ bench boss, after he took over the team from Curt Fraser mid-season , was a 1-0 win at home over the Montreal Canadiens. Hartley’s tenure with Thrashers produced a 5-1-1 start.
All week in Calgary, Hartley has been preaching a high tempo style of play and the importance of having a solid start in a season of just 48 games.
Hartley’s ultimate goal is to bring the Cup back to Calgary. Sunday he seeks to be the first Flame coach to win his first game since Darryl Sutter did it on Dec. 29, 2002.
The last three Flames head coaches contests — Jim Playfair, Mike Keenan and Brent Sutter — have lost their inaugural. Besides Sutter, of the 14 coaches to have handled the Flames since they arrived in Calgary in 1980, only three others have won on opening night. Terry Crisp did it in 1987, Doug Risebrough in 1990 and Brian Sutter in 1997.
Historically, season openers have not been kind to the Flames in recent years. They have lost six of the last seven including the last two.
But, Hartley wiped the slate clean when he was handed the keys to the Flames’ coaching office.
In the end, Hartley has been a winner at all levels he’s coached. For now, winning in his baptismal with the Flames is the desired first step.