The Calgary Flames hockey club were tipped as cellar dwellers before the 2013/14 NHL season kicked off, and while they sit in the bottom half of the Western Conference, their recent run of form has endeared the Saddledome faithful and lifted spirits for future success.
With wins against Anaheim, San Jose and Dallas since March 12 they have shown the gritty, hard working performances many have come to expect from the Flames as the season has progressed. During this period they travelled to Edmonton and defeated their rivals 8-1, further showcasing their recent form.
While not necessarily containing the top end talent that some teams in the NHL consist of, Calgary has shown a resolve and work ethic which not only keeps the opposition team honest, it keeps the Flames in the contest throughout the full 60 minutes.
The style of play and game plan which Bob Hartley has implemented – which the roster has seemed to buy into – has transformed what seemed to be a stagnate hockey team, to a somewhat exciting roster which is building a strong hockey culture.
Recent first round draft picks such as Sean Monahan have definitely helped the Flames secure important results this season, the rookie has played 66 games with 19 goals, 12 assists for 31 points, a great return which many didn’t expect prior to the season.
But how is Monahan’s success determined? Is it pure hockey talent which seen him drafted 6th overall in 2013? Or has the Hartley systems given Monahan the ability to shine?
After struggling initially in Calgary, Mikael Backlund has produced a breakout season for the Flames, he has posted career highs in points and goals across 72 league games. Is this another case of a player’s pure talent? Or has the culture which has been built under Bob Hartley given players the chance to finally believe?
So how important is winning culture?
Some will say that to win a Stanley Cup you need top end talent to make the dream a realisation, while some of that holds true, a winning culture ingrained into a hockey club can have lasting effects which will hold strong long after the superstars depart.
No matter whom the player, or what talent level the player has compared to the superstars on multimillion dollar salaries, a strong culture and hockey department will allow a team to succeed no matter what the personnel.
Calgary started this transition back in the Jay Feaster era, as much as Feaster cops his whacks, you can’t deny that he brought some great hockey people into Calgary. Some of those who are native Calgarians, people who pull on the sweater with a sense of pride and passion representing their home town.
While a rebuild is often linked with bottoming out and starting over fresh, acquiring draft talent at the one or two pick doesn’t necessarily earmark you to success, Alberta’s very own Edmonton are a testament to this.
Winning hockey games and to a greater extent winning Stanley Cups, takes more than just talent. It’s takes direction, stability, coaching and most importantly a strong culture from the clubs owner, GM department and right down to their AHL affiliate, something Calgary has started to build.
If building a winning culture throughout the 2013/14 season means dropping back a few spots at draft time and picking up another Sean Monahan, surely Calgary fans can sit back and feel that their club is heading in the right direction.