Pereception and ... Reality

December 10th, 2002
Geoff Gordon

Things are not always what they seem.

Many men, both bright and dim have uttered these exact same words hundreds if not thousands of times throughout the course of history. Allow me to add another repetition to the list then because as far as the Calgary Flames are concerned things are definitely not always what they seem (I'll let you decide whether to chalk one up for the bright or the dim side).

Take yourself back about 62 days or so to the high point thus far in the Flames season. The blazing ones were tied for first place overall, had the top ranked power-play in the league, the best penalty-killing unit and for the first time in recent memory - a team goals against average lower than the collective IQ at an Oilers Fan Club Reunion (ouch, that's low!). Yes siree, they were on a roll all right unbeaten and full of confidence and rallying the new troops like Drury, Gelinas, Kobasew, Yelle and Leopold behind the leadership of last year's scoring champ and budding superstar Jarome Iginla. Things were, in a word, great.

Then the regular season actually started.

The Flames fell from first place to last place in a matter of 60 minutes; penthouse to the outhouse, first class to coach, Calgary to Edmonton, (insert your own witty analogy here). The home squad was out-shot 34 to 19 and outscored 3 - 0 by the 'headed-for-great-things' Vancouver Canucks.

Now the Flames were not be officially credited with leading the league in any category this year, except perhaps most corn dogs sold during one intermission, but before the puck drops for real on opening night, perception is reality.

The same holds true for the Flames situation right now. They are without their superstar Jarome Iginla, minus the service of promising rookie defenceman Jordan Leopold, and as I'm writing this article the only team in the league without a permanent head coach.

Instead of folding like a cheap card table the Flames are somehow finding their stride under the silver-haired man they lovingly call 'Chopper'. They are unbeaten in three games, taking five of six points and scoring impressive victories over division rivals Colorado and Vancouver. This is the same team who under the guidance of the since departed Greg Gilbert fashioned one of the most pathetic records in the NHL ahead of only powerhouses like Buffalo, Nashville and Atlanta.

Greg Gilbert is by all accounts a good man and was a good coach - he simply lost his team. Whether the players chose to consciously tune him out or not is moot - that fact is they did. Al MacNeil is far from the second coming of Anthony Robbins - but the players have responded to the change and performed well. Admittedly three games cannot accurately gauge a team's progress but the wheels appear to be back on with the car pointed in the right direction.

Although the Flames bandwagon is running on empty the fact is they are not that bad a team. Anyone who's looked at the standing the past month may disagree with that statement but it remains true. Just as they were not really league-leaders at the start of the year, and Edmonton really isn't the worst part of Western Canada as some Calgarians believe - the Flames are far more than basement dwellers at this point, far more than what they seem.

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