Tuesday, August 4, 2020
Health

Flames defenceman Hanifin binged on NHL Network replays during layoff

Flames defenceman Hanifin binged on NHL Network replays during layoff
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The Calgary Flames defenceman was determined to stay in tip-top condition, but his preparations for this unprecedented summer restart also included a good chunk of time on the couch.

Noah Hanifin’s subscription to NHL Network paid off during the pandemic pause.

The Calgary Flames defenceman was, of course, determined to stay in tip-top condition, but his preparations for this unprecedented summer restart also included a good chunk of time on the couch.

“I was in Boston during those months off and kind of just mentally preparing myself for what will probably happen, and that’s that we were going to go back for playoffs. I always had it in the back of my mind that we were going to play,” Hanifin said. “For me, I watched a lot of hockey when I was at home. I watched a lot of film and even when I was just bored, chilling, I’d throw on NHL Network and there would be old playoff games on, so you just get a feel for the pace, the intensity.

“Just watching that, that’s kind of the way I like to stay mentally into it.”

It’s not just about staying sharp.

For Hanifin, these rewind viewings double as study sessions.

“Me being a defenceman, if a game is on, I try to watch a certain player or a certain group of defencemen that I like to model my game after,” he said. “Even old-school games … There were a couple of old Pittsburgh-Detroit Stanley Cup games on, so watching guys like Nicklas Lidstrom and following them and seeing their habits and what they like to do when they’re in important games and situations in the playoffs, that’s a good way for me to learn and to keep developing.

“It’s not like I’m taking notes or writing anything down, but I just like to watch and I get a good feel for the decisions you have to make and the pace of the game just by watching other teams play and watching that level of hockey,” he continued. “Because the playoffs are definitely faster. They’re more intense. There’s a lot more on the line, obviously, with the decisions you make. So you just have to be smart and you have to play the right way. I think watching former teams have success is a good way to learn.”

The Detroit Red Wings and Pittsburgh Penguins clashed in the Stanley Cup final in back-to-back years in 2008 and ’09, so when Hanifin refers to those as ‘old’ games, you’re reminded the smooth-skating rearguard is still a relative pup.

Now in his fifth season at hockey’s highest level, he is just 23. If the Flames go with the six blue-line guys we’re expecting, Hanifin will be the youngest defenceman in the lineup for Game 1 of their best-of-five play-in series against the Winnipeg Jets that begins on Aug. 1.

Thing is, his second-pairing sidekick Rasmus Andersson — they’ve been working side-by-side for all of training camp — is just three months older.

Between them, they have 10 games of Stanley Cup playoff exposure — all of it during the Flames’ first-round thud last spring.

“The experience that you gain is so, so important, because the only way you can gain it is to go through it,” said Flames interim coach Geoff Ward. “So they’re able to draw things out of what they went through last year, and now the challenge is to springboard it forward.

“We like the way that both guys (Andersson and Hanifin) move. They’ve shown that they can play against the other team’s top people, which is nice. That does some things for us matchup-wise. They’re both young defencemen, so we feel like their future is going to get brighter and brighter as they continue to develop. And they read off each other well, in terms of how they see it. They’ve developed some chemistry together.

“So for us, Ras and Noah are able to do a lot of things that we feel are going to help us. And in today’s game, one of the things that everybody is asking is that not only do you defend, but you have to add a little bit to the offence, and we feel like both those guys have that in their bag.”

Hanifin figures to benefit from his first taste of the Stanley Cup tournament. (“Everything is ramped up, everything is faster,” he said, reflecting on his five spring spins in 2019. “If you make a little mistake, a little mental mistake at a certain time of the game, it could cost you a game, it could cost you a game, it could cost you a season … So there’s a lot on the line. You just have to be very dialed in.”)

Thanks to his NHL Network subscription, he was also working during the break to get better at his craft, and those studies of the bearded battlers of playoffs past had him daydreaming about a lengthy post-season run of his own.

“Especially when you see teams win the Cup and just the reactions from the players … ” Hanifin said. “There is just so much that goes into it. So much goes into a season and the bonding between teammates. Everyone’s goal is to make it to the playoffs — and when it is playoff time, it’s go time. That’s when it all matters. The regular season is in the past, none of that matters. Everyone has a chance to win the Stanley Cup once you’re in there.

“It’s a fun time of year, and I think all the guys are super excited. It’s going to be fun.”

wgilbertson@postmedia.com

Twitter.com/WesGilbertson

 





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