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Mike Keenan is rediscovering his passion for coaching in Calgary

The Canadian Press
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The Hockey News
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Mike Keenan is rediscovering his passion for coaching in Calgary

The Canadian Press
By:

When Mike Keenan accepted the Calgary Flames coaching job over the summer, he did so with just one concern.

After so many different NHL stops and so many years of coaching would he be able to rediscover the passion needed to have success at such a demanding job?

"I was a little bit fearful of it when I started this year," Keenan said Wednesday on a conference call.

It's not much of a concern now.

"It's a challenging job and I've enjoyed it," said Keenan. "Even though we had a very hard and difficult beginning in terms of working with the group and assimilating the group, I still wanted to come to the rink badly every day.

"I think the fire's really burning right now. I'm looking forward to hopefully many more years of this yet because I've got that passion back again and it feels good."

The good vibes are no doubt fuelled by the fact that Keenan's team is among the hottest in the NHL, having recently become only the third squad in history to sweep a six-game road trip.

The streak started with tight wins in Chicago and Florida. Next came victories at Tampa, Carolina, St. Louis and Columbus, where the Flames won 3-1 on Tuesday night.

It was a remarkable run.

"For me to say we expected to win six in row, well, we didn't," said Keenan. "We gained some momentum as it went along and it kind of developed a life of its own.

"Now we want to carry some of that momentum into our home situation here."

Calgary hosts Dallas on Friday and New Jersey on Sunday before getting two days off for the Christmas break.

What made the Flames' recent run even better is the fact that they struggled while playing away from Pengrowth Saddledome all last season. Jim Playfair was the coach then so Keenan could only guess at what has changed.

"From an outsider's point of view, it looked like confidence was an issue," he said. "We tried to work on that part of it.

"A simplistic way (of explaining it) would be that your expectations of what you can do on the road should be a little bit different than what you expect to do at home. ... It was an issue a year ago and we're hoping to solve that issue now."

Keenan also credits captain Jarome Iginla - and not just for his play on the ice.

It was Iginla that suggested he be paired on a line with Kristian Huselius and Daymond Langkow earlier this month. Those three have combined for an amazing 29 points over the past four games.

"We were struggling as a team to come up with offensive production," explained Keenan. "Obviously his idea was a great one because it's certainly boosted the confidence of the two players he's playing with."

Iginla is having the time of his life right now. He was second in NHL scoring before Wednesday's games and Keenan says his captain is starting to remind him a little of Mark Messier.

This is about as good as it gets.

"It feels awesome," Iginla told reporters after the win in Columbus. "It's one of the best, most enjoyable stretches I've been on since being here.

"It's been a great vibe going."

It's pretty amazing what a winning streak can do for a team. Less than a month ago, Keenan was publicly saying that his team had underachieved and was calling for better play from goaltender Miikka Kiprusoff.

Calgary is the eighth NHL stop for Keenan.

He didn't necessarily plan on there being another one after parting ways with the Florida Panthers last season because he decided only to take another job on his own terms. In June, Flames GM Darryl Sutter phoned out of the blue and convinced Keenan to come to Calgary.

The new opportunity enabled him to accomplish something that only five other men had - win 600 games as an NHL coach. Keenan reached that milestone when Calgary won in St. Louis on Sunday.

"I actually felt it to be a humbling experience," he said. "You have to have people that have confidence in you to bring you back.

"As you know, I've had some controversial stops. I'm indebted to Darryl."

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Mike Keenan is rediscovering his passion for coaching in Calgary