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Coleman’s quiet confidence, leadership helping lift Flames

Blake Coleman Calgary Flames Blake Coleman - The Canadian Press

Blake Coleman made a bold proclamation on the bench during the third period of Calgary’s game versus the Dallas Stars on Nov. 30. 

Mikael Backlund just had a goal disallowed that would have tied the game at 3-3. The 32-year-old veteran forward calmly told teammates not to worry, and that they would tie the game. Minutes later, defenceman MacKenzie Weegar fulfilled that promise with a seeing-eye shot from the point. Nazem Kadri then ended the game for the Flames in overtime. 

“That quiet belief within each guy creates that opportunity to come back in games and win like that,” forward Dillon Dube explained two days later. “Coleman sitting on the bench is like, ‘Yeah, we’re gonna score right away.’…just that quiet confidence each guy has.”

Coleman said they key to that confidence is keeping everyone calm and focused, no matter what the scoreboard says.  

“When you go down 2-0,” Coleman said of his approach to communication, “you need guys to just settle it down and be like, ‘Hey. We’re fine. We’ve just got to score two goals. We’ve got plenty of game left.’” 

It’s a confidence the team simply didn’t have last season and has led to the Flames being able to rely on resiliency late in games. 

They lead the league with five wins when trailing after the second period and are tied for second with five wins when trailing after the first. Last season, Calgary had just two wins when trailing after two periods and eight wins when trailing after the first period. 

“That no-quit mentality and hope that you’re never out of a game,” Kadri said, of the biggest change from Sept. 2022 to now. “We’ve been talking about our starts, and we want to get better in that area, but I think the harder aspect of it is coming back in games, fighting to the end, and winning games…that’s the difference between this year and last year.”

Coleman, both on and off the ice, has been a big factor in that late-game success. 

His 10 goals and 22 points are second on the team and he’s on pace for a career season. Coleman admitted that he had some lingering injuries from his two Stanley Cup runs with the Tampa Bay Lightning that hadn’t fully been addressed until this past summer. Despite the injuries, he managed to set a career high with 38 points last season.

“I was probably playing at 75 or 70 per cent, depending on the day, my first couple of years [in Calgary] and just finding ways to get through,” he said. “There were a couple of Band-Aid things we did but weren’t really able to address it.”

While Coleman doesn’t have a letter on his jersey, head coach Ryan Huska has praised him publicly for “managing the room.” 

“The way he’s playing right now, people look to him as a guy we want to follow,” Huska said. “He’s done it in a positive manner when we haven’t played our best and he’s always been a guy that’s been ready to push or kick.”

And those two Stanley Cup rings carry weight in the Flames locker room.

“He obviously won two Cups, so he knows what it’s all about,” Backlund said. “When he has to, he steps up and says things…it can be anything positive, or encouraging, or pushing guys.”

The Flames have evolved in how they communicate on the bench and in the locker room, and are a more accountable, selfless unit, Coleman said.

“On the bench, it was getting to the point where guys were frustrated and bitching,” Coleman said, adding that he’s far from the only Flames player who has been vocal. “I think the players have done a better job of policing the room…it’s, ‘What can I do better?’ instead of, ‘What can the guy next to me do better for me?’”

Earlier this season, former Flame Nikita Zadorov, who was traded to the Vancouver Canucks on Nov. 30, alluded to selfishness.

"We have too many individuals playing by themselves," the 28-year-old defenceman said in October prior to requesting a trade out of Calgary. 

"We've gotta figure out if we want to play as a team or if we want to play as our own guy." He went on to say that there were no excuses with Huska now behind the bench after Darryl Sutter was fired as head coach on May 1.

"Now there’s no Darryl so there’s no excuses," Zadorov continued. "You guys don’t like hard coaches, you don’t like soft coaches, you don’t like good coaches, fair. It’s a new day league. You come up here and you play hard and leave everything on the ice.”

Coleman says the players eliminated the selfishness from a season ago by airing grievances in closed-door meetings to get on the same page.

“It was very clear that wasn’t the recipe for success,” Coleman said. “Forwards yelling at D, D yelling at forwards, things like that…I think we’ve eradicated a lot of that from the room…credit to all the guys. Everyone has calmed it down.”

The result has been a more accountable, team-first mentality and closer-knit team.

“Last year, we were all over the place,” Backlund said. “We couldn’t really get going as a team…when we play at our best, it’s when we’re playing as a group, and we push each other the right way.”