The feisty Calgary Flames are clearly done with the Olympic break.
Intensity ramped up at practice on Tuesday at the Scotiabank Saddledome as forward Matt Stajan and defenceman Chris Butler got into a shoving match before cooler heads prevailed.
“It was like two brothers fighting for their Tonka truck in the sandbox,” said Calgary coach Bob Hartley, who intervened before the skirmish went any further. “I was the third man. I was the closest guy. You appreciate the feistiness and everything, but you don’t want to get it overboard.”
Hartley was happy to see his two players tap each other on their shin pads with their sticks shortly after the altercation.
“It’s water under the bridge,” Hartley said. “Maybe it’s just a sign that times are changing. We want competitors. That’s what we’re preaching. That’s what we’re getting, so I can’t be here saying that it’s something that I don’t want to see.”
The Flames (22-29-7) have one day of practice remaining before they host the Los Angeles Kings (31-22-6) on Thursday for their first game in 19 days since losing 2-1 to the Philadelphia Flyers at home on Feb. 8.
“You get that itch to start for real and that’s where we’re at right now,” said Stajan, who downplayed his tussle with Butler. “Sometimes emotions get high in practice and things happen. It was nothing. I don’t think we need to blow it up here.
“A little pushing and shoving, it happens all the time. I think we’re all antsy here to get back to playing games. You can ask anybody in this room and we’re going to be ready for Thursday.”
Butler chalked up his run-in with Stajan to restlessness due to too much practising and not enough playing.
“It’s over with,” he said. “I’m sure we’ll laugh about it now. You go almost 20 days in between a game. Everybody enjoys a game of hockey, but these practices haven’t been easy. Guys are worn down. That five days last week was physically demanding, especially after a 10-day break where I don’t think guys saw a ton of ice time.”
The Flames returned to the ice last Wednesday for what Hartley referred to as “training camp, part 2” and went through five days of on- and off-ice sessions before getting a well-deserved day off on Monday.
“Right now we’re telling them playoff mentality,” Hartley said. “It’s time to get going. We had a good day off yesterday. Today we had a great practice. The boys were flying. They were sharp.”
Forward Mike Cammalleri didn’t mind seeing his teammates go at it in the heat of battle during practice.
“A little owly today,” Cammalleri said. “I think it’s time to play some games.”
With the NHL trade deadline approaching on March 5, there’s much speculation around whether Cammalleri will get dealt. Cammalleri could also sign a contract extension with the Flames before the deadline.
Cammalleri confirmed that the Flames have made him an offer and that talks with interim general manager Brian Burke are ongoing.
“I’m not ignorant to the fact that there’s a deadline coming up that might have implications,” said Cammalleri, who is set to become an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season. “Brian’s been great just as far as being open and honest. The lines of communication have been good. I’m sure that’ll continue.
“Plain and simple, I do like it here. I like the guys a lot and I like the coaching staff. I have a lot of respect for them and what they’re doing. I’ve got nothing but fantastic things to say about Calgary, especially the people here.”
After playing for Switzerland at the Sochi Winter Games, goalie Reto Berra took part in his second practice with the Flames on Tuesday.
“It’s good to be back,” said Berra, who wants to do everything he can in Calgary’s final 24 regular season games to prove he belongs in the NHL. “Now it’s not that many games left. Especially me, I don’t know what’s going on next year. I want to show myself on the best side again.”
Whether or not he gets the call on Thursday against the Kings — featuring Olympic gold medallists Drew Doughty and Jeff Carter — Berra said he’ll be ready for the challenge.
“They’re good skaters, good shooters, a good skilled team,” Berra said. “It’s going to be a big challenge again, but I like that and I’m really excited for Thursday.”
With Karri Ramo still nursing a groin injury, Joni Ortio is also in the mix to draw his first-ever NHL start.
“It’s been exciting and obviously it would be awesome to get some action and get a game, but that’s something that I can’t control,” said Ortio, who was recalled last week by the Flames from the Abbotsford Heat of the American Hockey League. “I’m excited, but at the same time I’m taking it easy. I’m just trying to embrace it and enjoy the opportunity and make the most of it.”