Flames’ Huberdeau, Markstrom sought different paths to turnaround

Sportsnet's Dan Murphy catches up with Jonathan Huberdeau after the Calgary Flames' 10-0 win over the Vancouver Canucks to talk about the injury scare with his knee, what you can take away from a blowout and having more fun this season.

CALGARY – One posted the largest season-to-season point drop in NHL history and the other went from Vezina finalist to one of the league’s most embattled starters.

One sought off-season help from a psychologist, the other from a toddler.

Regardless of their approach, both know massive rebounds are in order.

Jonathan Huberdeau and Jacob Markstrom were supposed to be the backbone of the Calgary Flames last season.

Instead, they were backbreakers.

“Embarrassment, disappointment,” said Markstrom, summing up his season when asked about a topic that will soon be ancient history.

“I want to look forward, but those two words I think show up in a lot of guys’ heads and minds after the season. 

“We’re looking ahead. Everyone’s excited. There’s a jump in everyone’s step.”

Indeed, a refreshing new approach and atmosphere has enveloped the Saddledome, where both stars have been given a clean slate.

Gone is the frustration, negativity and organizational drama that contributed to their struggles and those of the team.

Both insist they are done talking about the past, while also acknowledging it provided motivation through the summer to return anew.

For Huberdeau, that meant seeking advice from a Montreal-based sports psychologist who has done plenty of work with Olympians.

Their sit-downs did well to put things in perspective.

“I wanted some pointers, so I met a guy a few times and I think that really helped me to just get a sense of what happened last year,” said the Flames winger who went from 115 points to 55 last season following his move from Florida. 

“He gave me some points and I just went with it. It went well. I came back here and I’m positive and that’s all I wanted to do.”

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A horrible start for Huberdeau was compounded by plenty of second-guessing and no sign of the swagger that had made him one of the NHL’s most prolific forwards over the previous handful of seasons.

It didn’t help that then-coach Darryl Sutter trimmed his minutes significantly, swapped him to his off-wing and disrespected him by joking a trip to the dressing room for repairs was a bathroom break.

“You start overthinking everything and that’s what I was doing last year, and this year was really important to just forget about everything and just play hockey and have fun,” said Huberdeau, whose eight-year, $84-million deal kicks in next month.

“That’s what I used to do, and I kind of got away from that, and when you start to do that you feel heavy.

“That’s how I felt.”

It got to the point where he hated coming to the rink.

“You come in and you’re like, ‘I’m not feeling it today’ — and then I was like, ‘holy (crap)’

“I’ve never felt like that before. 

“Now you come to the rink and it’s exciting that it has started.”

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Asked if he too sought the help of a certified professional to help set him straight after his nightmarish season, Markstrom smiled.

“I talked a lot of baby language this summer and it helped,” chuckled the 33-year-old netminder, who became a new dad in late February.

“Baby Clark is a great therapist and he helped me through a lot.”

Fair enough.

Taking the mind far from the crease was his best approach to resetting.

“We had a baby — I think that was the biggest change of the summer from before,” said Markstrom, whose play improved after the baby’s birth.

“I don’t go back — I look forward. 

“We’ve got a great group and great staff and great organization, the fans … everything is awesome. We need to enjoy it and look ahead and not be looking in the rearview mirror.”

Clearly the culture change that came with replacing Sutter with Ryan Huska is already having an impact on the lads.

Things are much lighter.

Optimism abounds, as a team almost completely intact from last season gets a chance at redemption.

Both talented leaders had stellar starts to the preseason, with Huberdeau scoring two beauties Sunday night and Markstrom stopping every shot he faced over two periods against Vancouver.

“I think everybody is excited to come back,” said Markstrom, whose GAA skyrocketed from 2.22 to 2.92, while his save percentage plummeted from .922 to .892, ranking him 42nd amongst the 52 goalies with more than 25 starts. 

“Everybody wants to play. It’s a great feeling in the room. I think everybody realizes we have to come together.

“There’s jobs to be taken and people are pushing from underneath with the Wranglers’ success last year, and some high draft picks and other draft picks. There’s a whole new competition out there. 

“It’s really good for us.”

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Both insist they are healthy, refreshed and ready to return to the form that made them such cornerstones in previous years.

They’re too good, too proud, too professional to believe otherwise.

“I think mentally, this summer was huge to get it back, to get the confidence back,” said Huberdeau, who opened camp on the top line alongside Elias Lindholm and Yegor Sharangovich. 

“I feel really good right now. It won’t come easy, but I feel good personally. 

“I’ve just got to let loose and have fun out there.”

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