There are those who may wonder why Bob Hartley, fresh off a championship season in the Swiss league, would consider taking over the Calgary Flames, the definition of an NHL team mired in mediocrity.
Those are people who don’t know much about Hartley, and his deep-seated penchant to just win, baby.
“I’m a person, I’ve never been scared of challenges,” Hartley said. “I just turned 52. I could have stayed in Zurich for many years. It would have been easy for me to say, ‘Fifty games, no travel, sleep at home every night,’ – but that’s not me.”
No, Hartley is a man whose path to the NHL took a number of unexpected turns. His first coaching job was with a tier-two junior team in his hometown of Hawkesbury, Ont. He was the part-time goalie coach, promoted to the top job after an 0-8 start. He was working in the local windshield factory, had a young family and no real aspirations to coach beyond that interim position.
But by the end of the year, he’d been bitten by the coaching bug and rapidly moved through the ranks – to major junior, minor pro and then to the NHL where, in his third season behind the Colorado Avalanche bench, he won the 2001 Stanley Cup. Overall, in 650 NHL games coached, Hartley has a 329-226-95 regular-season record and a 49-35 playoff record.
For Hartley, to go from the factory floor to a Stanley Cup championship in 11 years tells him anything is possible – and he is the living proof.
“It’s why I have no fear,” said Hartley. “For me, it’s always look for reasons to win rather than have a fear of failure or losing. For me, I never lose. I just don’t always win.”
Hartley inherits a Flames team coming off a 90-point, ninth-place finish in the Western Conference and includes Alex Tanguay, who played for him in Colorado, plus team captain Jarome Iginla and goaltender Miikka Kiprusoff, two of the league’s premier players.
In referencing his own coaching “recipe,” Hartley is particularly emphatic about details – and how meticulously he likes to plot out the season. Players in Calgary will receive daily practice plans, with all the drills laid out ahead of time. They will also receive monthly schedules, so they know exactly when they’re coming to work and when they’re off.
“I’m known to be very demanding, but once we give you my word on something, you’ve got it,” said Hartley. “I’m not going to take a day off away from you [because of a loss]. For me, it comes down to my belief that I’m coaching people, I’m not coaching players – and those people, they have families. So Jarome can tell his wife, ‘We’re going to bring our kids to Banff [on a day off],’ and it’s set.”
Only a few days into camp, defenceman Mark Giordano already sees a change from last year’s Brent Sutter regime – and believes the Flames will play a more up-tempo style, with a more aggressive forecheck.
“If you’re not prepared to work, you can’t play in this system,” said Giordano.
Hartley, meanwhile, has a laundry list of things he wants changed, beginning with but not limited to, “the culture, the identity, the conditioning, the commitment, the distractions and making a difference.
“I want everyone believing that, in any given moment, on or off the ice, they can be the difference. That’s not just for the players either. That’s for all of us.”