The 33rd season for the Calgary Flames is underway and while a lot of work has been completed off the ice to save the team from playing elsewhere in 2013-2014 after three million gallons of floodwater ravaged the Saddledome, there’s still quite a bit of roster construction to be done.
For defenceman Mark Giordano, it’s simple: “we’re going to get better,” which indicates an improvement from last season’s 19-25-4 record, and a lot of young players are vying for a shot to be part of the rebuild.
The Flames hit the freshly painted ice at the Dome Saturday evening for the first split-squad, pre-season game against the Edmonton Oilers, kicking off another campaign in the Battle of Alberta.
Both lineups featured a lot of fresh faces, but in addition to the rookies, a couple of older players took to the ice, including David Jones and Shane O’Brien, who came to Calgary from the Avalanche in a June deal that sent Alex Tanguay and Cory Sarich to Colorado.
"We're trying to stress that every time you put the jersey on you play the same way. We're going to need 20 guys every night to contribute and you know, we don't have any superstars and we know that, we've accepted it, and we're fine with it," the 30-year-old O’Brien says.
"We're just trying to come together as a team. There's great guys in here and they made it real easy for me to come in here, we've got a lot of leaders, a lot of character guys, and you know, it's exciting."
While a captain and alternate captains have yet to be named, head coach Bob Hartley says Jones and O'Brien have been two experienced players showing the young players the ropes on and off the ice.
"They're two good pros, they're two good vocal guys, and they're great leaders," Hartley says. "The two in the room took great care of the kids before games and in between periods."
Hartley seems pleased with how the Flames made out in the deal with the Avalanche, adding size and strength to the roster, a trend newly appointed president of hockey operations Brian Burke intends to continue.
"You know, like O.B. has a solid, physical presence on the blue line," Hartley says. "We knew what we were going to get over there and I think that they will fill their role very good over here."
O'Brien, who was drafted in 2003 to the Anaheim Ducks and has also played in Tampa, Vancouver and Nashville before getting to Colorado, says he remembers all too well what it's like to be young and trying to an make an impression.
"[Sean] Monahan, [Corban] Knight have been playing well, but all the young guys have been good. It's tough for me to kind of tell them apart, you know, they all wear the same helmets with the same visors now, so it's kind of tough for me and being a new guy in the organization I don't really know everyone," he laughs.
Monahan was drafted sixth overall by the Flames in June’s draft and has been seeing a lot of ice time through the pre-season, while Knight, a native of flood-stricken High River, came to the franchise earlier this year in a trade with the Florida Panthers in exchange for a 2013 draft pick.
"All our young kids play well, they're all good kids, they all respect the game and that's important. It's the feather in the cap to the front office, they've drafted some good kids and we're going to need them through the season whether it's injuries or whatever it is, and I've been impressed with the way they carry themselves."
With quite the list of newcomers trying to find a place on the Flames’ roster, lineups continue to be shuffled in practice and exhibition games, which is all part of Hartley's plan to see every player adjust.
"If we want this to be easy, we would have kept them in Penticton with kids of their age and kids of their caliber," he says. "They're our draft picks, they're our kids, and we made a commitment that we would give a chance to those young players to come up and that's exactly what we did."
With the extensive task ahead of cutting the roster through September and finalizing the Flames' lineup for the 2013-14 season, the club is also going through a bit of an identity shift, as they try to insert the right pieces to help them win, but you'd expect no less from a team eagerly trying to rebuild with its sights set on a post-season.
"We want to play the game the right way, play the game with passion," coach Hartley says. "We're starting a new culture over here and let's make sure it's a blue collar one, that everyone accepts his role. I think everyone is on board and there's plenty of good things to build on."