The Calgary Flames’ poor play on the ice through the first quarter of the season turned out to be only the beginning of what was an emotional stretch for the franchise on and off the ice.
In mid-November, practice was cut short and players were deeply shaken after seeing defenceman T.J. Brodie collapse on the ice — a scary incident later determined by doctors to have been caused by a fainting spell. Two weeks later, former NHLer Akim Aliu sent shockwaves through the hockey world when he spoke out about being the target of a racial slur used by now-former Flames head coach Bill Peters during their time with the AHL’s Rockford Ice Hogs.
During an interview on Hockey Central on Thursday, Flames general manager Brad Treliving said he felt strongly that keeping his players informed was imperative throughout.
“With the situation that we were dealing with, I felt it was imperative that we communicated regularly to the players and kept them up to speed exactly — whatever I knew, they were going to know,” he explained. “I promised them whenever I knew something, they would know something immediately.”
He also explained how increased player accountability and leadership helped his team navigate the difficult stretch.
“It’s a bit of a chaotic time as a player, all this stuff’s going on around you and at the end of the day we’re telling them their job is to play but there was lots of chaos,” Treliving said. “So I met with the team — they were probably sick of it by the end of it — a couple times a day just to kind of keep them informed as things moved along and I think communication was vital going through a situation like that.”
Now six games into the Geoff Ward era after the assistant coach was handed the reins behind the bench following Peters’s resignation, the Flames look like a roster renewed. They’re 6-0 under Ward’s guidance, and have seen a big boost in production from depth players whom Ward has empowered by helping them carve out more defined roles on the talent-filled team that up until this point has not lived up to expectations.
“Geoff’s come in an really defined roles for guys in the lower end of the lineup and really given them some responsibility and some ownership,” Treliving said.
“His communication, he’s very communicative to the players, he wants their input, but also they understand that he’s the final decision maker in terms of when they make decisions. He wants to discuss the whys of it and get input and get their thoughts,” Treliving said. “I think anybody — I don’t care if it’s a team or any walk of life or any business — when you feel like yo’ve got a little skin in the game and your voice matters and that you’re respected in terms of your opinion, certainly buy-in sometimes happens a little bit more smoothly.”
The GM also spoke highly of his leadership core, on which he’s leaned heavily over the past month. It’s a core that extends beyond the players wearing letters on their sweaters.
“We believe that if you give them a little bit of ownership in how we want things to operate — I wouldn’t call it a pure democracy, somebody’s got to make a decision at the end of the day — but I think if you can entrust your players and empower your players to have a voice, I think it makes the accountability factor even greater when they’ve got some skin in the game in terms of how we do things. We relied on them a lot, and I specifically relied on them a lot over the past couple of weeks.”
He also praised the club’s closeness that has been especially evident throughout the past month.
“There’s a lot of connection, they’re very close. The players tell me it’s the closest team they’ve ever been on,” he said.
“They’re very aware of what’s going on. They’re very aware of where certain players are, if they’re going through some troubles,” he continued. “Even off the ice, if there are things that are bothering somebody, it’s a caring group. We mentioned the T.J. Brodie incident … I went over to the hospital with T.J. and by the time I got out of the room there were about 25 guys there in the waiting room. Those things, I think, are important and they’re certainly important when you go through some challenging times.”