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The three Calgary Flames benched for disciplinary reasons have apologized to their teammates, fans and the organization. (Jeff McIntosh/THE CANADIAN PRESS)
The three Calgary Flames benched for disciplinary reasons have apologized to their teammates, fans and the organization. (Jeff McIntosh/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Calgary Flames players say getting benched was 'an eyeopener' Add to ...

Practice for the Calgary Flames began at 11 a.m. on Wednesday morning, but Sean Monahan punched in two hours earlier.

“Obviously, the other day we made a mistake – and that’s the first and last time that’s going to happen,” Monahan vowed.

One night earlier, the Flames took the unprecedented step of suspending a trio of players – Monahan, Johnny Gaudreau and Lance Bouma – for one game, for disciplinary reasons, after the three arrived late for a Monday morning, post-Super Bowl practice.

Flames' Gaudreau calls disciplinary benching an 'eye-opener' (CP Video)

The trio watched from the sidelines as a patchwork Flames lineup that included only 11 forwards defeated the Dion Phaneuf-less Toronto Maple Leafs 4-3 Tuesday night, providing two valuable points that kept Calgary’s faint playoff hopes alive. The result also answered critics on social media, who wondered how a team could bench its two top scorers for a game in which there was so much on the line.

But these sorts of indiscretions happen all the time; how they’re addressed speaks to the value an organization puts on its culture. If accountability matters, then the rules cannot be applied selectively around the dressing room and waived for the better players.

Last year, for example, the Dallas Stars benched star centre Tyler Seguin for the final regular-season game after he missed a team practice. Seguin needed one more goal to establish a single-season best; he didn’t get that chance.

Seguin was a player who arrived in Dallas with a wild-child reputation, so it was important for the Stars to send a message – that even in the midst of a fabulous individual season, a level of accountability was still required.

It was the same unflinching approach the Washington Capitals used with Alex Ovechkin earlier this season, benching the Great 8 for a game after he also showed up late for practice.

Ovechkin later explained he set his alarm clock improperly – 8:45 p.m. rather than 8:45 a.m. And while coach Barry Trotz accepted the explanation, he noted that rules are rules and they apply to all.

Publicly disciplining two of the NHL’s top stars doesn’t appear to have hurt Washington and Dallas. It might have even done some good with the rank-and-file players, who would appreciate playing for a team with a strict sense of justice.

It doesn’t always work out in a team’s favour, however. When Trotz was coaching in Nashville, he suspended a pair of players, Alexander Radulov and Sergei Kostitsyn, for a curfew violation during the 2012 playoffs, which might have cost the Predators their series against the Phoenix Coyotes.

Organizationally, the hope is to use the lapse as a teaching moment when the players are still young enough and keen enough about their professional development to see it that way – rather than as some arbitrary unnecessary punishment.

On the morning-after in Calgary, all three issued the obligatory mea culpas, including apologies to their teammates, management and the fan base.

“A learning experience,” said Gaudreau. “It’s an eyeopener for me and Sean and Lance. We’re three younger guys who need to learn.

“It’s difficult,” he added, “because all our dads are here, to go on the father’s trip, and expecting to watch us play against Toronto. We’ve got to pay the consequences. All three of us are really upset with ourselves.”

What did Gaudreau’s father say to him?

“What any dad would say if their kid was in trouble or made a mistake: Learn from it,” replied Gaudreau. “You’re a young kid. It’s something you need to learn from and will help you grow.”

It has been an eventful fortnight or so for the Flames, given they are also playing without Dennis Wideman, who is serving a 20-game suspension for cross-checking linesman Don Henderson in a late-January game. Commissioner Gary Bettman heard the appeal of Wideman’s suspension on Wednesday and is expected to render a verdict by the end of the week.

Depending upon Bettman’s ruling, Wideman has the further right to appeal the suspension to an independent arbitrator. Currently, he isn’t scheduled to be back playing until mid-March, after the NHL trade deadline.

By then, the Flames’ playoff hopes could be more clearly defined. Their game against the Sharks Thursday in San Jose falls into the make-it-or-break it category, given San Jose is one of the teams Calgary needs to overtake to make the playoffs in the Pacific Division.

In the meantime, Flames coach Bob Hartley was at pains to put Tuesday’s events behind him, noting that no matter where someone might work – in an office or a factory – there are always good days and bad days. “Yesterday was a bad day,” he said, “and now we move on.”

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