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Message received loud and clear, as Bill Peters delivers success to Flames

Peters gives advice to Derek Ryan. - Jim Wells/Postmedia

New coaches can do wonders for middling National Hockey League teams.

Bill Peters has done just that for the Calgary Flames.

And much more.

From being uber-detailed to being clear about expectations to demanding an uptick in tempo, Peters has quickly built within the team a culture that’s bred success.

Oodles of it, in fact …

With proof in such a superb regular season that’s brought on the promise of a lengthy playoff run once the puck drops Thursday night on the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

“Bill’s had a big impact, obviously,” said Flames GM Brad Treliving, who brought Peters in last April to be ‘the guy’ after past coaching hires had produced only a modicum of prosperity for the NHL club. “I think right from Day 1, he has set a tone and set a standard for where he wants the team to play at, and there is no dipping to it.

“And it doesn’t matter who you are,” Treliving continued. “He has an expectation for how the team should play, and there is no compromise. Now, when you say that, he also allows the players to have a voice, but he’s just very clear and very direct. I think it’s real good — guys don’t have to go home at night and wonder, ‘I wonder what he thinks?’ So I think he has had a huge impact.”

The GM will get no argument from the players under Peters’ tutelage.

To a man, they are clear — just like the coach himself — in their appreciation of what the Alberta native has brought to the organization in a little under a year’s time.

It starts with the message he delivers their way … every day.

“Billy is clear and direct,” said Flames captain Mark Giordano. “He hasn’t changed at all from the first day he walked in. We come to the rink and prepare for the next game, because he’s got a really clear focused message. As a player, you really enjoy when it’s clear what’s expected out of you and you have to go out and execute. Same message all year. Just a really clear message, and it’s helped us for sure.”

It’s helping all the Flames, young and old.

“Yeah, he comes with the same message every single day,” agreed first-year winger Austin Czarnik. “Even if we lose the night before, the next day’s a new day — he comes in with a smile the next day. He’s been bringing out the best in everybody. I think everybody loves to play for him.

“A lot of players here are having the best year of their career.”

Derek Ryan is one of those blossoming under the Alberta native.

After a journeyman career playing in Austria, Sweden and the American Hockey League, the veteran centre has found an NHL home with Peters, even following his bench boss of the last four seasons by signing on with the Flames last summer.

“In terms of his coaching strategy and how he mentors young men in the NHL, I think he’s been the same since I met him,” said the 32-year-old Ryan, who caught on with Peters-led Carolina Hurricanes in 2015-16. “I know what he expects from everybody,” Ryan continued. “A guy like myself in particular, I know what he expects day-in and day-out whether it’s game day or practice day. That makes my life easier when you know what the coach wants.

“It can be hard on some guys, too, because he expects a lot. He has high expectations. You have to fulfil them.”

The Flames, with a Western Conference-best regular season, have done just that, obviously buying into what Peters has been preaching since arriving on the scene.

But the head coach is known for more than simply talking a good game.

He obsesses about it … in a positive way.

At least in a way that’s making the Flames a sudden success story.

“It’s been said over and over and over again that Bill is very detailed oriented,” Ryan said. “He’s really into all the details of the game, whether it’s face-offs or structure within the forecheck or structure in the defensive zone — he wants guys in the right place at the right time every time. You can’t really fault him — I think those details are what win championships.

“Those details have definitely won us games in the regular season,” Ryan continued. “And it should be huge for playoff time, where every little detail and every little mistake is magnified. If your guys are where they’re supposed to be, then it’s about who has the better team, and I feel we’ve got a pretty good roster here.”

That roster, which put together a sparkling 50-win, 107-point campaign, has been improved by the details that Peters brings to the gameplan.

“He gets the game,” Czarnik said. “He focuses on face-offs, which is a big part of the game. When you start with the puck, it’s a big difference out there.

“He does the match-ups well, where he can put players in where they need to be. He’s not afraid to change it up when things are going stale. Usually, when he switches it up, the team has responded.”

Flames captain Mark Giordano says Bill Peters’ message to players has been consistent. - Darren Makowichuk/Postmedia
Flames captain Mark Giordano says Bill Peters’ message to players has been consistent. - Darren Makowichuk/Postmedia

 

Peters timeliness for shaking things up isn’t simply reserved for off-day back-room strategizing.

The coach is bringing it to the bench with him and shuffling his way through games from shift-to-shift.

“One of his best qualities as a coach is his in-game adjustments — his ability to change things up when things aren’t going well in a game,” Giordano said. “If you’ve watched this year, you’ve seen him do it a number of times, and it usually gives us a spark mid-game.

“It’s great,” continued the captain. “I think you need those little momentum shifts and those little boosts mid-game. They go a long way — they really help keep guys on edge. He doesn’t let us slip when it comes to details — face-offs and stuff like that.

“And those little things become huge, especially in playoffs.”

Of course, that’s where they’re headed now, beginning with Thursday’s Game 1 at the Saddledome in the Western Conference best-of-seven quarter-final series against the Colorado Avalanche (8 p.m.).

And don’t go thinking the Flames — or Peters — are going to be changing too much up when they ring in the post-season.

After all, the message now is to take what they’ve learned from Peters in the regular season and build on that success for a shot at the Stanley Cup.

“We know what he wants — he wants us to play with pace,” Czarnik said. “I think that’s a big part of our success. I feel like some teams are starting to play us different — trying to slow it down — because we’re such a high-tempo team. They are locking it down more and making it harder.

“But he preaches playing with pace a good amount. He shows us what he wants us to do day-in and day-out.”

With no room for complacency.

Not if they’re serious about a Stanley Cup title.

“There is no deviation, right?” Treliving said. “There are no exceptions. And the players respect that. The players understand that, ‘Hey, if I’m not going, if I’m not playing at a certain level, somebody else is going to play.’ You’ve seen it all year. What I think that does is it keeps you sharp.

“I think he has a real good feel for the team, too, of when to push, when to manage some rest and that sort of stuff. I think he’s built a lot of trust with the players, but they understand, too, that there’s a push. He’s not going to back off now. You would hope that the way we practise and the way we play that it sets us up as we hit the starting gate (in the playoffs).”

tsaelhof@postmedia.com

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