The Calgary Flames are inching closer to a return with NHL training camp getting underway Sunday with physicals and medical tests.
General manager Brad Treliving says having the ability to play games at home, instead of a bubble – like last year’s playoffs in Edmonton, will be an added bonus.
“This is a different animal,” he said. “We’re pretty isolated, although we’re not in a bubble. Our players go through daily testing, our staff go through daily testing, our group is limiting any contact they have with the outside world. When we travel, (we will be) on a sanitized bus, private charter, going to the hotel, (and) there will be limited to no contact.”
Captain Mark Giordano admits last year’s bubble for many NHL players was difficult being isolated away from the outside world, and their families.
“Thinking about seeing your kids and your family is number one,” said Giordano. “But also little things like pre-game meals, and being able to order from your usual restaurant you eat pre-game meals at.”
Giordano says he and his teammates will be ready for a grind of grit and determination, before the regular season kicks off Jan. 14 in Winnipeg.
“It’s a real important camp, it’s going to be really short – 10 days but (that’s) plenty of time to get ready for that first game,” he said.
Giordano also expressed the importance of staying safe during the season, issuing a call to teammates to avoid gatherings and expanded contact groups.
“That’s a big threat, big scare for teams, that the virus getting into your locker room and shutting you down,” he said.
The Flames made significant moves in the offseason, most notably, inking a bonafide number one goaltender in Jacob Markstrom to a six-year, $36 million deal.
The former Vancouver Canuck is one of a handful who switched from the blue and green of the west coast for the red of Calgary.
Defenseman Chris Tanev, forward Josh Leivo and goaltender Louis Domingue all were Canucks last season.
“The Vancouver rivalry has already been a good rivalry with the Flames,” said head coach Geoff Ward.
“The fact that we’ve got a lot of their players over on our side now and they’ve signed Hammer over there, I think that’s going to ramp that rivalry up.”
Ward was speaking about former Flames defenseman Travis Hamonic who was inked to a professional tryout with the Canucks on Sunday.
He believes with the new veteran additions, his team may have what it takes to get to that next step.
“We understand how good our chemistry was last year, and now we’re going to ask our team to assimilate some new people in,” said Ward. “So our dressing room is going to have to settle our over a little bit.”
“They’ve been through a lot together” said Treliving. “You’re excited about some of the new pieces you got here, to see where they fit in. I think its a real motivated group. I think as much heat as everybody’s given these guys, it’s still been a young group.
“Everybody wants everybody to wake up one day and go from a team that, five years ago was drafting fourth overall, to a team thats winning a cup, it takes time.”
Treliving says his group going into training camp will consist of 41 players including 24 forwards, 12 defensemen, five goaltenders and four players who are listed as late arrivals.
Oliver Kylington is one of those late arrivals, as he is in isolation, following immigration delays coming from Sweden.
The Flames also have three prospects currently partaking in the World Junior Hockey Championship in Edmonton, all of whom are in the semi-finals with their respective countries.
Connor Zary, Dustin Wolf and Jakob Pelletier will all join the main group following either their country’s elimination or medal wins.
Goaltender Garrett Sparks was also signed by the Flames to a professional try-out. The 27-year-old has spent time with the Toronto Maple Leafs before moving to Vegas and being placed on waivers. He signed an ECHL one-year deal with the Orlando Solar Bears last month.
Michael Stone is also on professional try-out (PTO). Stone is currently a unrestricted free-agent and is playing for a contract with the team he has spent the last four seasons with.
Treliving added that goaltender Tyler Parsons is the only player not to participate in camp over the next 10 days, as he is nursing an ankle injury, undergoing surgery last month.
The Flames will begin on-ice sessions on Monday, with intrasquad games on Jan. 7 and Jan. 11.
The NHL regular season begins Jan. 13, with teams slated to play 56 games.
The Flames are in the newly created North division, which includes all seven Canadian teams.
The Battle of Alberta will be intensified, with Edmonton and Calgary meeting ten times.