With 21 games left in their 2019-20 campaign, the Calgary Flames find themselves amid the tumult of the Western Conference wild-card race.
Only one point separates them and the Vancouver Canucks for third place in their division, while zero points differentiate them and fellow current wild-card club, the Arizona Coyotes. But while the Flames still look likely to get to the dance, weathering key injuries to Mark Giordano, Travis Hamonic and Derek Ryan en route to their current spot in the standings, there’s still panic afoot among some of the Flames faithful.
Some feel the club is doomed given how they fared in the post-season last year following a far more dominant regular season. Some go as far as to suggest it’s time for GM Brad Treliving to move on from his current core.
For interim head coach Geoff Ward, the inconsistencies in his team’s play are simply the growing pains that come with a young team improving in a highly-competitive league. And Ward’s got a pretty good base of understanding to back up his feelings on the subject.
“You know, I rely a lot on my experience [of] what I went through with the Bruins over the time that we built the Stanley Cup team there in Boston,” Ward said on Sportsnet 960’s Boomer in the Morning Tuesday. “Probably the easiest way to put it is we’re a winning team right now that’s trying to learn how to be a contending team. Those have lessons along the way, and sometimes they’re hard.”
Ward was an assistant coach with the Boston Bruins from 2007 to 2014 — a run that saw his club enjoy seven straight playoff berths and progress slowly into a champion.
His debut season behind the Bruins’ bench saw the team ousted in the first round — they made it as far as the second round in each of the next seasons before claiming the Cup in 2011. After that: a first-round exit, a Cup Final loss, and a second-round exit.
The lessons accumulated along the way during those journeys are invaluable, said the coach.
“We’ve got some young guys with not a lot of playoff experience trying to figure out how everything fits together at this time of year, and the expectations in the city are high based on what happened last year. Understanding that there needed to be a turnaround in our team at the most important time. So there’s a lot right now that the guys are trying to deal with, number one,” Ward said.
“But how they’re dealing with it, and the lessons that they have to go through to learn it, you can never control that sometimes. The only way to get experience is by going through it.”
The veteran went through plenty with his former club States-side — particularly the year before those Bruins climbed the Stanley Cup hill, a post-season that brought a far more disappointing collapse than the Flames endured last year.
“We were up 3-0 [in the series] on the [Philadelphia] Flyers in the second round. We got a couple injuries and they ended up coming back and winning the next four games and eliminating us. So, there’s all kinds of things that have to happen to a group to steel it and battle-test it in order for it to ultimately understand what it takes to win. And I think, really, that’s what our group is going through right now,” Ward told Sportsnet 960.
“We have these nights where things happen, like last night, and then we have nights where the effort’s not where it needs to be. I think when we look at it from that type of a perspective, of what we’re growing through with our growth as a team, it’s easier to keep it on line, it’s easier to understand it. And it’s easier for us to know where we need to get to work the next day.
“It can be frustrating at times, for sure. But we’ve just got to keep worrying about the things that we can control, and we’ve just got to keep grinding away.”
Listen to Ward’s full interview with Sportsnet 960’s Boomer in the Morning via the audio player embedded within this post.