Calgary Flames flicker back to life with lopsided groups at camp

CALGARY — After a few passing and battle drills to shake out the cobwebs, the majority of the Calgary Flames dove back into game-like scenarios Monday.

The Flames joined 23 other NHL teams in a reboot of the 2019-20 season after a four-month pause due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

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The odd optic at Scotiabank Saddledome was 24 players, including three goalies, participated in the morning skate.

Just nine, including two defencemen and goalie Cam Talbot, were involved in the afternoon session. Forwards in the second group included Johnny Gaudreau, Milan Lucic and Sam Bennett.

The NHL has forbidden teams from commenting on the status of individual players during the return-to-play phase, so no explanation was given for the lopsided groupings.

"Circumstances that became apparent last week made it so we had to split the groups the way you saw them," Flames head coach Geoff Ward said cryptically.

"I can't elaborate any more than that. We had two groups originally. We had to move some bodies around.

"The teams ended up as they were today. They may change on an ongoing basis daily from here."

All but two of the 35 players chosen to participate in Flames training camp 2.0 were on the ice Monday.

Forward Dillon Dube and Buddy Robinson were "unable to participate," according to the Flames.

Defenceman Travis Hamonic opted out of returning to the team last week citing his infant daughter's respiratory illness earlier this year.

The main group progressed quickly from drills to forechecking systems, defensive zone coverage and power play and penalty kill.

"Getting back out on the ice with the boys, being able to do drills full ice and work on our power play, work on our penalty kill, that felt real normal, felt real important to get out there," Flames captain Mark Giordano said.

"I'm sure we'll be moving pretty quickly here. It's all a refresher right now. We all know the systems. Get up to game speed and execute."

Of the four coaches on the ice Monday, goaltending coach Jordan Sigalet wore a mask.

Forward Matthew Tkachuk said players were ready to run a gauntlet of protocols — including temperature taking and COVID-19 testing — at the Saddledome to avoid the chance of contagion.

"In the locker room, very very strict," Tkachuk said. "Try to social distance as much as we can.

"Spread out in a few different locker rooms and just try to be as smart as we can right now."

Until teams arrive later this month in the hub cities of Edmonton and Toronto, where they're to be walled off from the public, players must be mindful of their behaviour away from the rink during training camp.

"A hundred per cent, the next two weeks, as a player you've got to look at it like if you do something or go somewhere you're not supposed to be and put yourself at risk you could be risking your whole team," Giordano said.

"Right now you have to be smart. I know there's certain things that guys have to do and obligations.

"Try and stay home as much as possible and stay safe as much as possible. Let's make sure we get to the hub city with our entire team healthy."

The Flames face the Winnipeg Jets in their play-in series starting Aug. 1 in Edmonton.

Theirs is the lone all-Canadian matchup to start the playoffs.

Calgary (36-27-7) ranked third in the Pacific Division, four points back of the second-place Edmonton Oilers, when the NHL halted play March 12.

Winnipeg (37-32-8) was fourth in the Central and held down the first wild-card berth in the Western Conference.

"At certain points it felt we were never going to get this opportunity and now it looks like we're going to have a big opportunity, as good as anyone else to win that Stanley Cup," Giordano said.

"Watching the way the skate went today, especially our power play, it looked like guys were really sharp, really dialled in out there.

"The excitement was there today for sure."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 13, 2020.

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