Flames’ Wideman rebuilding image amid uncertain future

Watch as Calgary Flames defenceman Dennis Wideman runs over a referee after a taking a scary hit against the Nashville Predators. Dennis Wideman's 20-game suspension was upheld by the NHL after an appeal.

A young family exits the stage to a standing ovation after sharing the emotional story of their nine-year-old son’s triumphant battle with cancer.

It’s the Calgary Flames annual golf tourney dinner and there isn’t a dry eye in the house.

Moved by the journey they’ve just shared, Dennis Wideman walks over minutes later to thank and congratulate them for their bravery.

Then he quietly tells them the $6,500 trip to Turks and Caicos he just bought in the live auction is now theirs.

More tears.

Training camp opens Thursday for the Calgary Flames, breathing new life into a sordid story that dominated last season.

For Wideman it’s a chance to try repairing a battered image, mending some tattered relationships within the organization and trying to get the focus back on his play, which also nosedived last year.

Meanwhile, the man he so violently blindsided late last January to attract so much negative attention, is still recovering from off-season spinal surgery.

Sportsnet has learned for the first time in his 22-year career, linesman Don Henderson missed the training camp for NHL Officials last week in Buffalo and there’s no timeline for a return.

While no one is talking due to the league’s legal proceedings surrounding the case – not to mention a pending lawsuit sure to be launched – few in the hockey world believe he’ll ever officiate again.

This story won’t go away.

Henderson will turn 48 on Friday and originally planned to spend at least one more year working NHL games before his health was compromised by an incident seen far too many times by most hockey fans.

While everyone involved was anxious to put time and space between their ugly collision, those victimized by its fallout continue to be haunted.

“Obviously what went on last year was hard on myself – and not just myself, my family,” said Wideman, who has maintained all along the contact was accidental as he saw Henderson at the last second before bracing for impact.

“My family and my wife were reading everything that certain people were saying. And I know everybody is going to have their opinion and there’s nothing you can do about it. But at the end of the day I know who I am, I know what happened and I know how it went.

“It was a tough year, yes. Throughout not just my hockey career but anything – I take pride in my reputation and I’d like to think I’m a good person or a good guy.”

While cynics will undoubtedly suggest his donation to the family this week was contrived or part of rebuilding his image, it should be noted he didn’t want to talk about it.

Yes, it was announced at the banquet shortly afterwards.

But that wasn’t his doing.

Point being, Wideman’s got a long road to hoe.

“All I can be is who I am,” said Wideman, who drew further ire when Commissioner Gary Bettman revealed the embattled blue-liner sent a text to a teammate blaming “the stupid refs and the stupid media” for his predicament.

“Maybe someone can help me with (an image change) if I needed to do that. My focus is how I play and that’s all I can control. All that other stuff is out of my control.”

Although he’s repeatedly apologized publicly to Henderson for what he maintains was an accidental collision in front of the bench as he skated off the ice, he hasn’t spoken to the veteran Calgary linesman since apologizing to him minutes after the hit.

Has he heard anything about a civil lawsuit potentially launched by Henderson, who was also concussed by the hit?

“I haven’t heard anything about it,” said the 33-year-old blue-liner.

“That would be a ‘cross the bridge when I get there kind of thing.’”

Not that anyone needed reminding but Wideman got off to horrible start last season before the infamous collision sparked a firestorm of controversy and debate over the botched 20-game suspension and successful appeal to an independent arbitrator that halved his sentence. (The league has since sued to challenge the reduced sentence).

Wideman’s season ended with injury and you can imagine he couldn’t leave town fast enough to get to his cottage in Muskoka where his wife gave birth to their second child -a daughter – in April.

“With everything that went on last year it was good to get away, get back home and back to the cottage to recharge the batteries,” he said.

“Obviously with finishing off the last 20 games with an injury I’m excited to get this season going. There’s always an air of excitement when you have a new coaching staff so you can see how things are going to change, how things are run and are going to go.”

Trade rumours involving Wideman circulated all summer as the team undoubtedly tried hard to rid the club of Wideman’s $6 million salary in this, the final year of his contract. His claims of being concussed thanks to a hit by Nashville’s Miikka Salomaki seconds before hitting Henderson contradicted his post-game comments and further complicated relationships around the Dome, where the medical staff’s reputation was needlessly called into question.

Moving on simply isn’t that easy.

But he will try.

Dennis Wideman
Calgary Flames defenceman Dennis Wideman’s season was cut short by a tricep injury. (Jeff McIntosh/CP)

Frustrated last year while trying to adjust to playing on the left side for the first time in his career, Wideman is unsure where or how coach Glen Gulutzan will use him.

Or if Wideman, and all his baggage, will even be here.

“I’ve got no idea what the plan is,” he said of his initial discussions with Gulutzan

“You sort that stuff out in camp. As far as rumours go, GMs are probably talking every other day about trades and names are thrown around – I’m sure mine has been thrown out plenty along with other guys especially because I’m in the last year of my contract

“As far as how much as I make, they had to sign a goalie and they had to sign Monny (Sean Monahan) and Johnny (Gaudreau) and they need cap space and that brings me into question for trade rumours. That’s nothing new and I know it’s a business.”

Try as he might, it may never be business as usual for Wideman for as long as he stays in Calgary.

Henderson’s scars run even deeper.

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