When Blake Coleman was 15, he had a conversation with a coach that changed the trajectory of his burgeoning hockey career – and his life.

The Plano, Texas, native was introduced to the sport by his maternal grandmother, who hailed from New York state. She had Dallas Stars season tickets but couldn’t convince family members to attend games with her. Grandson Blake happily obliged, spending many evenings with her watching the Stars play at the old Reunion Arena in downtown Dallas.

“She took me as a kid and I loved it,” the 29-year-old Coleman, now a member of the Flames, recalled in a TSN interview at the Saddledome in Calgary.

“I grew up watching them and started playing roller hockey in the street. The Stars started popping up rinks all over town and I went and tried it out and loved it.”

Like most NHLers, Coleman was the offensive star on his youth hockey teams, piling up points and earning accolades while playing on competitive travel teams.

But as a teenager with eyes on the sport’s top league, a coach bluntly told Blake that his ticket to The Show wouldn’t be as a scorer – and that he’d have to change his habits to get there.

Around Christmas 2006, the then 15-year-old was playing with the Belle Tire AAA team in suburban Detroit when they had the chat.

“It was actually [St. Louis Blues defenceman] Torey Krug’s dad that was my coach there and he had a come-to-Jesus moment with me,” Coleman said.

“He just taught me the hard side of the game, the defensive side, the tough side.”

Some 15 years later, Kyle Krug still vividly recalls the scene in his office.

“It was right before Christmas break and I asked him if he was going to return to the team after,” he said.

“I was pretty hard on my players, especially the ones that I thought had ability. I asked him some pretty harsh questions and I made some harsh statements to him.”

“When Blake came here, he had long blond hair and was a typical skilled player from down south and didn’t play like a kid from Western Canada or Detroit or Toronto would play,” Krug elaborated.

“He wasn’t that gritty. The conversation that took place was basically, ‘If you’re gonna be a player that’s gonna be in the National Hockey League, you’ve got to play 200 feet of the ice and you’ve got to play with a lot of jam.’”

The transformation took place and Coleman returned to the team with a new attitude, new work habits and a new haircut.

“He came back after Christmas and he had shaved his head,” Krug said. “I was like, ‘Holy cow.’”

Coleman finished the season among team leaders in scoring, earning back the trust of Krug in the process. 

“He was a huge part of our team.”

“He really changed my outlook on the game and what my path was to make it,” Coleman said.

“I think the more tools you have in your bag, the longer your career can be.”

One of them is the ability to agitate. 

“Our first encounter wasn’t the best,” said college teammate Austin Czarnik, now with the New York Islanders organization. He and Coleman first played against each other in the North American Hockey League.

“He was a gritty player and likes to get after it, and I was kind of a rat at the time. We butted heads for sure.”

Coleman played four seasons of college hockey at Miami University (Ohio) and was drafted by the New Jersey Devils in the third round (75th overall) of the 2011 NHL Draft.

“Where he grew the most, I think he became a 200-foot player,” said Rico Blasi, Coleman’s coach at Miami. “He understood the game not only with, but without the puck. He understands that there’s a role he can play and whatever role that is, he’s going to be able to do it.”

A member of the Tampa Bay Lightning the previous two seasons, Coleman, Yanni Gourde and Barclay Goodrow formed one of the best third lines in recent memory en route to winning back-to-back Stanley Cups.

“It was pretty much an instant connection when I started playing with those guys,” Coleman said. “We still keep in touch. They’re easy guys to root for. They’re really great people. It’s kind of crazy that we’re all gone now from Tampa. It was a pretty special line in the sense that it was consistent. We stayed together our whole time there…it means things are going well if they’re keeping lines together

Beyond his contributions on the ice, Coleman was brought to Calgary in the off-season – signing a six-year, $29.4 million contract – for his Cup-winning pedigree. 

The Flames haven’t won a playoff series since 2015 and underachieved last season, finishing fifth in the all-Canadian North Division. Over the years, the team has also been criticized for its inability to manage the highs and lows of games. Coleman’s presence will surely help in that regard.

“Mistakes are going to happen, you just have to limit them,” he said. 

“You want to have a perfect game every game, but it’s not the reality. I’ve really learned how to turn my focus to the next shift. You can’t go back, you can’t change what’s happened…we had a lot of that in Tampa. It was great. If you lose a game, nobody’s concerned. You knew what you needed to do. If guys made mistakes that cost the team that game, they were the best players on the ice the next night. That’s what you hope to see out of this group, too.”