Calgary Flames road trip couldn’t come at a better time

Sports

After losing five of six at home since Jan. 20, heading out on the road for a six-game trip is the perfect tonic for the Calgary Flames. 

The importance of beating the Chicago Blackhawks on Saturday should not be overstated. It was, in a way, a peace-offering for Calgary’s fans, who, over the last three weeks, watched helplessly as their beloved team dropped into 10th place in the Western Conference.

Sean Monahan’s overtime winner on Saturday will restore belief in the locker room, injecting confidence as the boys depart for the second half of the back-to-back with Chicago.

In a recent interview, Glen Gulutzan said his team doesn’t mind playing on the road. His answer is a candidate for biggest understatement of the year. He does, however, get points for modesty.

Calgary Flames’ impressive road record

The Flames head to the Windy City with the third best away record (13-5-5) in the league in terms of winning percentage, trailing only Tampa Bay Lightning and Boston. Eight games above .500, the Flames have won four of their last five away encounters.

Maybe suffering from holding their sticks too tightly at home, Gulutzan’s team can get back to basics during the forthcoming trip.

Winning four of six would be a successful stint, particularly considering the Flames have to play on back-to-back nights against two teams – the Rangers (17-9-3) and Devils (15-8-3) – that are tough to beat at home.

After that the Flames play the Islanders, Bruins and Predators before returning home on Feb. 17. As you can see, none of those games are of an easy variety, with the final two offering especially difficult tests.

But don’t put anything past the Flames, who have proven time and again to be worthy of their road warriors moniker. It’s crucial to sweep the mini-series against the Blackhawks, the worst of the six at home (12-10-3).

Mike Smith, with a league-leading .948 road save percentage, has been lights-out in unfriendly confines all season, and Gulutzan’s men support their all-star netminder proficiently on the road, locking it down in their own end.

In five recent away games, the Flames have conceded only nine goals, which equates to 1.8 goals against per game. In comparison, the Bruins, who concede 2.38 goals on average, lay claim to the league’s stingiest defence this season.

Those paltry numbers combined with Calgary’s propensity for finding the back of the net bode well for the current road trip.

The Flames have scored 3.8 goals per game in the last five away outings, which, albeit over a small sample size, tops the Lightning’s league-best 3.56 per game.

If they can maintain those impressive numbers at either end of the ice, the Flames will further cement their status as one of the league’s most dangerous road teams.

(This piece originally featured on Flame for Thought. Photo by Gerry Thomas/NHLI via Getty Images)

Calgary Flames’ Mike Smith hopes to start enjoying some home cooking

Sports

Mike Smith, looking for a bounce-back game, is hoping to reproduce his impeccable away form when the Calgary Flames host the Blackhawks tonight. 

Overall, Smith has enjoyed a stellar season between the pipes. He’s unarguably one of the team’s most consistent performers and rarely takes a night off, with the exception of a frustrating evening against Tampa Bay on Thursday.

A large discrepancy, however, does exist between Smith’s home and away outings.

The 35-year-old has a .948 save percentage away from home, the best of any NHL netminder in unfriendly environs.

He is the embodiment of a road warrior, going 9-3-3 in 15 away starts. Smith’s paltry 1.83 goals against average (GAA) in road games would, in isolation, put him behind only Carter Hutton (1.70 overall GAA) and Marc-Andre Fleury (1.79 overall GAA).

Smith hasn’t been able to match those otherworldly numbers in front of Flames’ faithful at the Scotiabank Saddledome. The contrast is stark, with Smith’s save percentage dropping almost five percent, to .905. His GAA swells on home ice to 2.89, a large enough gulf to warrant further inquest.

What’s wrong with Smith’s Calgary Flames home cooking?

Firstly, the sample size probably has something to do with the existing chasm between Smith’s home and away performances. He’s played in 28 games at home, while only making 15 road starts.

That caveat isn’t reason enough to explain his drop in form at the Dome, though. While not nearly as demanding as Montreal fans, Flames’ faithful have high expectations of their number one netminder. But Smith’s expects just as much from himself, if not more, than the exacting Calgary crowd.

Plus, you wouldn’t expect a wily, well-versed veteran like Smith to succumb to pressure, no matter how immense. You can’t put it down to bad fortune either, as the gulf in numbers is too big to substantiate that reasoning.

That leaves me with one clear-cut explanation: Smith is only as good as the support his team offers in front of him. Calgary, as a collective, have been poor in what are supposed to be friendly confines. The Flames have a grotesque 12-13-3 home record, the fourth worst in the Western Conference.

For Smith to assimilate unconditionally to life in Calgary, his team must improve markedly at the Dome, making their relatively new netminder feel more at home.

Until that happens, Smith won’t be able to enjoy and appreciate the home cooking Calgary has to offer.

(This piece originally featured no Flame For Thought. Photo by Gerry Thomas/NHLI via Getty Images)

What is behind the Flames’ recent third period collapses?

Sports

Before consecutive third period collapses against Las Vegas and Tampa Bay, the Flames were one of the most reliable teams in the league at shutting down shop when leading after two. 

What a difference a few days can make.

Flames fans, prior to Jan. 30, could rest easy with the lead going into the third, knowing their team were almost certainties to secure the win, evinced by their 89 percent winning ratio in such situations.

The Flames, who boasted a 17-0-2 record when up after two, led the Golden Knights 2-1 with 1:47 to play.

Then came Michael Frolik’s moment of madness, his wayward backward pass turning into a shot on his own netminder. Understandably caught off guard, Mike Smith was only able to push the puck back into harm’s way.

Erik Haula couldn’t believe his luck and dually obliged, punishing Frolik for his haphazardness. It’s impossible not sympathize with Frolik, who had just return from a long injury layoff. Too outrageous to avoid further punishment, it was a eureka moment that burst Calgary’s bubble.

Ten seconds later the Golden Knights scored the winner, obliterating the Flames’ unbeaten regulation record when taking a lead into the third. Calgary enjoyed an otherwise near flawless performance against the top team in the Western Conference, dictating play until that fateful moment.

Those type of heartbreaking losses are more difficult to recover from, the devastating defeat compounded by the fact the Flames had already lost four on the bounce.

Worrying third period signs against Tampa

The signs were more worrying in the third against the Lightning, symptomatic of a team devoid of confidence and assuredness. Smith, usually one of the team’s most consistent performers, looked apprehensive and unsure.

Uncharacteristically, he conceded two weak ones from bad angles in just over five minutes, turning the game in Tampa’s favour. The initial momentum shift occurred in the second when Matthew Peca halved Calgary’s lead, but it was Alex Killorn’s leveller in the third that totally deflated Glen Gulutzan’s team.

In coughing up a second successive third-period advantage, the Flames fell from 14th to 24th in holding the lead after two.

They have lost six in a row and must overcome and extinguish quickly any feelings of self-pity or skepticism. Because at this level the difference between winning and losing has a lot to do with confidence and self-belief.

The Flames have the talent, depth and skill set to make a run to the playoffs, so long as they swat sternly away the devil currently perched on their collective shoulder.

(This piece originally featured on Flame For Thought. Photo by Gerry Thomas/NHLI via Getty Images)

If Donald Trump is a “stable genius”, then I still have a shot at the NHL

Opinion, Sports

Donald Trump, by claiming he’s a “stable genius” in one of his latest Twitter tirades, provided hope for everyone who thought their unfulfilled dreams were dead and buried. 

I’m not going to dive into the far-reaching political implications or the absurdity of his irresponsible, petulant Tourette-style tweets.

Instead, I’m going to focus on a silver lining, the fact that Trump’s comical defence of his questionable mental state has instilled me with the belief that it’s not too late to fulfil my childhood dream of making the NHL.

Sure, I’m two months shy of my 35th birthday, a touch too old by most sane people’s reckoning. Rustiness might also be a slightly hamstringing factor, as I haven’t laced up my skates for almost a decade.

But, like Trump, my mental stability is beyond reproach, so the physical impediments are mere blips to overcome on my journey to NHL glory.

It’s going to be a long, arduous journey but I’m up for the challenge. I must be strategic, though. Figuring that knocking on Brad Treliving’s door, or showing up to the Saddledome with a pair of skates in hand wouldn’t render desirable results, I’ve ruminated ad nauseam about how best to make an unforgettable impression.

To begin what will assuredly be a lengthy, gruelling training regime, I’ve decided to start on the mental side of things. To become an NHLer, I must think like one, and to do that there is only one place to start: EA Sports’ NHL 2018.

NHL 2018 Training Camp

To loosen up and learn the basics, after a decade hiatus from playing EA’s hockey series, I suited up and hit the ice for training camp. I’d like to say it was akin to riding a bike, but that would be bald-faced lie; there were, admittedly, a few teething problems, namely learning how to tie-up an opponent on the draw. It’s slightly embarrassing, I know.

And don’t get me started on the dekes.

After a few slight hiccups, I proficiently passed all training camp requirements. Confidence brimming, it was time to showcase my newfound talent by pitting my skills against an online opponent.

My first NHL 2018 online test

I realized quickly that, like the real thing, there is absolutely no tolerance for off-puck hits. A constant stream to the penalty box eventually ended up costing me, as my opponent, the name of whom I don’t recall, scored on one of his numerous man advantages.

That halted my original game plan, inspired by the brutes and enforcers in Slap Shot, the 1977 cult hockey classic.

But I was confident that training camp fitted me with the skills needed to compete in the online NHL 2018 world without running roughshod. I was sorely mistaken. Thoroughly outplayed for the lion’s share of the game, I managed to somehow score the equalizer. The goal, as you can imagine, wasn’t pretty, but they all count.

Mike Smith, the Flames’ starting goaltender, kept me in the game, not too dissimilar to the situation on the road in Calgary’s current NHL campaign.

Going to overtime

Tied at one, I managed to take Anaheim to overtime. Like an out-of-shape athlete coming out of retirement, I started to prematurely fatigue. My sore fingers were the most immediate concern. Like an NHLer playing through injury in the Stanley Cup playoffs, I battled on, the prospect of glory increasing my pain threshold.

More surprisingly than some of Trumps’s most ridiculous tweets, I potted the winner in double overtime. I leapt off the couch, celebrating like I’d won the Stanley Cup.

After some time to reflect, I’m deathly scared of putting my 1-0 record on the line. I know a loss isn’t far away, but quitting isn’t an option.

If I’m going to eventually make the NHL, I must re-enter NHL 2018’s online universe and take on all comers.

My NHL 2018 username is New_Age_Journo, so please have mercy if we happen to meet head-to-head online.

Just keep in mind that I’m NHL-bound and on a transcendent journey, largely in part because of a single, utterly laughable Trump tweet.

(Feature photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

From humble Bosnian beginnings to Real Madrid: The story of Munib Koric

Sports

Munib Koric knew almost immediately after arriving at the Santiago Bernabeu that Real Madrid are on another level.

“They are the most impressive club I have ever seen,” Koric said.

Koric, Calgary Villains F.C. Academy director and Golden Goal Soccer Academy owner, is the first Canadian citizen accepted into Real’s prestigious coaching apprenticeship program, which he began in February.

The achievement was the culmination of years of determination, hardship and sacrifice, a journey that saw Koric flee his home in Bosnia for Germany before the civil war, and eventually emigrate to Canada with his young family in 2000.

A visit to Real Madrid

Koric could be forgiven, then, for wanting to visit each section of the Bernabeu unfettered and free, to revel in the state-of-the-art facilities of one of the world’s great clubs.

Instead, he was fronted by a grocery list of prohibitions: he wasn’t permitted to carry a camera, let alone take pictures or shoot video footage; he wasn’t allowed to debrief the team doctor, an important element in gaining a comprehensive understanding of club ongoings.

You name it, he couldn’t do it.

Koric tried to convince Real Madrid staff and security to make a concession or two. His request fell on deaf ears. Before verbalizing his short wish list, which included permission to take photos, the staff interjected.

“Buddy, we are Madrid,” a staff member quipped.

Koric, though, had a trick up his sleeve: Davor Suker.

Koric and Suker — a club legend after winning La Liga and Champions League titles with Real across three seasons in the late ’90s — go back about 30 years, when they first met at a Yugoslavia U18 national tryout.

Unlimited Bernabeu access

Proceedings at Madrid played out very differently for Koric after his old friend picked up the phone and called his former club.

Koric, the day after Suker intervened, was permitted to take photos and shoot footage to his illimitable desire. Juni Calafat, Madrid’s chief scout, subsequently gave Koric the VIP tour, providing almost unlimited access to Real’s facilities and personnel.

“When I start to come around with him, different story, different story,” Koric said. “Players come to me and everything. Before the Valencia game we drink coffees, and text came from Zidane. He said to come down, take your camera, tape everything, no problem.”

Koric has a chat with French legend Zinedine Zidane, Real Madrid’s current manager. (Photo courtesy of Munib Koric)

Seeing how tightly the Bernabeu ship is run, along with being surrounded by unparalleled talent, put into context how lofty his accomplishment is.

Nothing exalting in life, though, comes completely devoid of sorrow and suffering, something Koric knows first hand, and to a staggering degree.

A life-changing tragedy

Koric was in Germany on a soccer tour in 2014 when he heard news from home that would forever change the course of his life.

His wife, Enisa, was on the phone, confessing that she had just been diagnosed with lung cancer.

There were no warning signs. Enisa never faced any bouts of ill-health. Asymptomatic, Enisa looked, and felt, completely fine when doctors diagnosed her with a rare form of lung cancer. Enisa, who never smoked a day in her life, was diagnosed with Stage IV adenocarcinoma.

Doctors gave her three months to live.

“She was working full-time — and when you find out you have three months to live that hits you in the head — you can never be comfortable again,” Koric said.

Enisa defied the odds, surviving for almost two years after the diagnosis. She was in her 40s when she passed away in May 2016.

“That broke me for sure, that changed everything,” Koric said.

Current Calgary Villains general manager, Calvin Campbell, said the Real Madrid apprenticeship program offered Koric a sliver of solace in an otherwise sorrowful year.

“Sitting down and talking to him about being accepted at Real Madrid, for his UEFA pro, it was the first time in a long time he was smiling with everything going on in his life,” said Campbell, who has known Koric since he arrived in Canada at the turn of the millennium.

Soccer, during the darkest days after his wife’s passing, was Koric’s only escape. Spare time became his arch adversary, offering nothing but solitude. And even worse, time to think about the ordeal that haunts him most.

Losing his soul mate, best friend and life partner, Koric couldn’t sit idly by, so he resorted to filling time with the one thing, other than his family, he loves most. He managed to make it to the training pitch in the aftermath of the tragedy until Campbell and the club intervened.

“It was the toughest of times for him. He never wanted to take time away from the pitch — we forced him to take three weeks away to be with his family,” Campbell said.

The wound is still fresh but Koric is coping with the loss the only way people can, by getting up each day, hoping that someday time will once again be on his side.

Koric runs a training session in Calgary for one of the many teams he’s the academy director of. (Image by Gary Pearson)

Coaching the Calgary Villains

Koric, 50, started coaching the Calgary Villains in 2000-01, when he took control of the club’s only two teams at the time, their Major and Premier League sides. The Alberta Major Soccer League (AMSL) is Canada’s highest level of semi-professional soccer, bettered only by MLSand the North American Soccer League (NASL), both of which are professional leagues.

The Villains had no youth program to speak of at the time, and relied on players filtering in from other clubs around the city once they were of age, between 15 and 18 years old.

“They were a good group of boys,” Koric said about the first senior teams he coached with the Villains, “but they weren’t set up for big success.”

Campbell played for one of those teams, and vividly remembers meeting the steely Bosnian.

“Everyone heard he was very demanding” said the 34-year-old, who is now playing in his last AMSL season with the Villains. “I would say he was quite intimidating to start, just because his expectation was through the roof which we didn’t have in Calgary before.” 

Koric, by creating the Golden Goal Soccer Academy, has since transformed the Villains from a rudimentary organization to the city’s most desirable club. No longer closely involved managing the senior squads, Koric spends his days training about 150 kids, from ages seven to 18.

His notoriety across Canada, particularly in Calgary, has increased since honing his craft with Real Madrid, but it’s his innate knack for spotting and developing budding young talent that is most deserving of recognition.

14 Jun 1998: Davor Suker of Croatia takes on Ian Goodison of Jamaica during the World Cup group H game at the Felix Bollaert Stadium in Lens, France. Croatia won 3-1. Suker scored Croatia’s third as they won 3-1. Mandatory Credit: Shaun Botterill /Allsport

“He know exactly how kids thinking, he know exactly the make of the younger age, the skills of the kids,” said Suker, the former Croatian international, whose 45 goals remain unmatched atop the nation’s all-time goalscoring chart. “He knows exactly what he needs to do and he has the plan.”

Like an artist painting a canvass

Koric develops young players with an artisanal quality, focusing first on technique, then sliding seamlessly into shaping their mind for the game. He’s like an artist painting a canvass, ensuring each player evolves progressively, with meticulous refinement.

“I first start with technique. I like people to learn how to play soccer first, in younger age, and later on we add what we need. Fitness is easiest but technique is the most important thing for me,” said Koric.

If you toss West Ham manager Slaven Bilic and Liverpool’s Jurgen Klopp into a blender, out would pour Koric’s personality and coaching style. He has something of both Klopp and Bilic’s luminous passion, while sometimes showing glimpses of Klopp’s charisma. Unlike the Liverpool manager, though, Koric is not unconditionally adored by those unknown to him.

Koric, admittedly, is an acquired taste.

Coaching Canada’s elite

Koric is responsible for developing and grooming former Canadian men’s U20 Player of the Year Ethan Gage — now playing professionally in Norway with Bærum Sportsklubb — and Chris Serban, of the Vancouver Whitecaps reserve team.

Former U17 Canada national team captain Marco Carducci is another of Koric’s devotees.

Awarded Canada’s U17 player of the year in 2012 and 2013, a rare achievement for goalkeepers, Carducci cultivated his talent during his impressionable years under Koric’s mentorship.

“I think the biggest thing was the professionalism and the mentality he brought, especially at a young age,” said Carducci, who was 10 when he first joined Koric’s academy. “He had a high standard and he pushed us in the right direction, he put a huge focus on technique, especially early in our development and I think that was a big game changer for a lot of the players.

“Everything he taught us was specific. He is very detail-oriented.”

Carducci left for pastures new when he was 15, venturing to Vancouver, where he signed for the Whitecaps residency, a full-time, fully funded player development program. The 20-year-old currently plays for Rio Grande Valley FC Torros, whose parent club is Houston Dynamo.

The highly touted goalkeeper has experienced every level of the youth national team setup, including captaining Canada at the 2013 U17 World Cup, the highlight of his fledgling career.

Stepping up to the big time is a daunting prospect for many amateur athletes, but Carducci said the transition, due to the professional way in which Koric’s sessions are conducted, was seamless.

“He primed me for stepping into the next level. The first step was joining the White Caps academy, and I was ready to jump into a professional environment because I had personally already experienced that with Munib,” Carducci said.

A man and manager misunderstood

Misconception followed Koric when he first arrived on Canadian soil. Campbell said that Koric was often misunderstood and unfairly judged. That is, unless you knew him personally and understood the nuances of his character.

Koric is notorious for his hard, no-nonsense outer shell. He is, at heart, a disciplinarian, a man known for his often blunt, matter-of-fact and salt-of-the-earth demeanor.

He is a man with a code, one that demands commitment, diligence and respect. Subtlety is not his strong suit. If you’ve done something wrong, or contrary to his teachings, you’ll soon know about it.

Campbell said Koric often yelled, relentlessly barking orders from the sideline.

He holds his players to account and nobody is immune from his formidable wrath.

“He does care about the players and he wants the best but he does expect the best and if you’re not willing to put that level in then he doesn’t want to spend the time with you,” Campbell said. “It kind of goes both ways.”

But it’s exactly that demanding, unforgiving nature that enables him to extract the best from his pupils. And behind the scenes, Campbell says, Koric is caring, light-hearted and funny, his only true concern the betterment and wellbeing of his players.

“He’s a very caring coach who finds a way to connect with the kids,” Campbell said. “He’s a second father figure for a lot of us. He was there when you’re growing up, and helps see you through tough times.”

Bosnia born and raised

Koric’s tough exterior is a result of his upbringing, which wasn’t dissimilar to how most kids were brought up in Eastern Europe during the 1970s.

Born in Bosnia, part of former Yugoslavia, Koric was raised by strong-willed, resilient parents. It wasn’t a society or generation permitting of weakness, nor did it allow for pampering or coddling.

Koric said you grew up fast in the former Yugloslavia, equipped at a young age with survival instincts infrequently seen in modern-day North America. He found out first-hand from a formative age the meaning of hard work. Nothing came easy, and he grew up knowing that only hard graft could potentially yield eventual prosperity.

Most adolescent boys in Eastern Europe play soccer. Koric was no different. He immersed himself in the global game when he was barely old enough to crawl.

Koric had faith in his ability and thought, with a dash of luck, that it could one day lead to a professional contract, and a better life for his family.

The Bosnian-Canadian came within a whisker of turning his dream into reality, but didn’t make the Yugoslavia U18 team, falling just shy of his boyhood goal.

Nothing could have prepared Koric and his family for what happened less than a decade later, when stirring political discord in the Balkans reached its boiling point.

In the aftermath of World War II, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Serbia, Montenegro, Croatia, Slovenia and Macedonia unified, becoming a part of the Federal People’s Republic of Yugoslavia.

Nationalist sentiment, spearheaded by Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic, created an unreconcilable rift between Serbians in Bosnia and Croatia and their Croatian, Bosniak and Albanian neighbors.

“They (Bosnian Serb forces) started first with Slovenia,” Koric stated. “You could guess it was coming. We hoped it didn’t happen, but it happened.”

The Yugoslav republic of Bosnia-Herzegovina declared independence from Yugoslavia in 1992, and the resulting civil war led to the worst genocide since World War II. About 100,000 people died during the three-year conflict, 80 percent of whom, like Koric and his family, were Bosnian muslims.

YUGOSLAVIA – JULY 12: The Serbian army of Mlaic in Srebrenica, Yugoslavia on July 12, 1995. (Photo by Art ZAMUR/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images)

Koric was playing for Croatian club team MK Pula in 1990. He escaped to Germany just before civil war broke out in the former Yugoslavia. His mother, father and brother weren’t so lucky. At the heart of the strife, Bosnia was surrounded, and so too were Koric’s family.

Rubble remains after Serb shelling December 1, 1994 in Mostar, Bosnia-Herzegovina. When Bosnia declared its independence in March of 1992, the Bosnian Serbs set up local militias and established several autonomous regions warring with their Muslim neighbors. (Photo by Roger Lemoyne/Liaison)

“During war they send five, six, seven, 10 000 grenades per day on city, you cannot even walk. I mean you walk to store and bam,” said Koric, referring to the relentless bombings Sarajevo was subjected to.

Koric’s mother lost her life during the civil war, which ended in December 1995. Many of Koric’s friends and acquaintances also lost their lives to the senseless, discriminate violence.

YUGOSLAVIA – JANUARY 01: Serbia today in Yugoslavia in 2002: At Orlovaca, one of Belgrade’s newest cemeteries, war veterans from arcas of former Yugoslavia, (Crotia and Bosnia)-from left to right: Radomir Poljcic, Miroslav Petrovic and Rade Ratkovic visit the grave of Nikola Glumac (1953-1997), killed by a mine explosion near Bihac in Bosnia. (Photo by Art ZAMUR/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images)

Though the odds were stacked heavily against his brother and father, both managed to survive the atrocities committed by Bosnian Serb forces.

In 1996 Koric began his coaching career in Germany, managing semi-pro teams Croatia Munich and FC Lerhenau, among others.

Koric Calgary-bound in December 1999

After an almost 10-year stint in Germany, Koric, Enisa and their baby, Zerina, boarded a flight bound for Calgary in December 1999.

Koric couldn’t utter a word of English upon stepping foot in Canada. Enisa was a nurse in Europe, but her qualifications weren’t recognized in Canada.

Both jobless and devoid of any social network, the two were determined to make a real go of it in Canada.

Of all the challenges Koric faced, which included learning English, he picked the temperamental, often bitterly cold winters as the toughest change to adapt to.

“The beginning was tough,” he said. “The cold, long winters was the toughest. The long winters was the biggest surprise.”

Koric relocated to Canada just as soccer was starting to gain popularity. He had trouble communicating and assimilating from the onset, but worked unremittingly to learn the language and understand Canada’s culture and customs.

Almost 20 years after moving to Canada with a desire to improve youth soccer, Koric has a litany of things to be proud of. He has transformed kids in their nascency into professionals. In 2007, his U16 Villains team won the Canadian national championship, the first Alberta team to claim such an honor.

His continuous and significant contribution to youth soccer in Canada is just now being recognized on a larger scale.

Once he travels back to Madrid in September and completes the program, Koric will obtain the UEFA Pro license, the highest available coaching accreditation. It’s the license required to coach in the Champions League and Europa League.

Suker, currently the president of the Croatian Football Federation, believes wholeheartedly that Koric, if the opportunity presents itself, has the quality to coach an elite European team.

“Of course (he can coach a top team),” Suker said. “He is a top guy to make the right decisions and I’m sure he would be a success.”

And while a move to a professional club could be on the cards in the future, Koric remains steadfast, currently focussing on what matters most.

“I always enjoy the most when you see somebody improving,” he said. “When you see someone, doesn’t matter what level, when you see improvement, someone doing better, that’s what makes me happy.”

(The original piece was featured on Fansided & Sports Illustrated)

 

Calgary abuzz at prospect of new-look Flames

Sports

After recently attending two Calgary Flames games – including the home opening 5-4 defeat to the Vancouver Canucks – the city of the 1989 Stanley Cup champions has been set alight at the prospect of the vibrant and fearless new-look outfit.

The Flames, through the first five games of the season, remain undefeated in regulation and boast a 3-0-2 record, which is good for a share – with five other teams – of second place in the Western Conference. But we all know the standings at this inchoate stage of a campaign are about as meaningless as an NHL All-Star game.

Sure, there is bound to be teething pains for this crew of energetic spark plugs. So first let’s run through the dark and gloomy: Calgary, allowing 17 against, is profusely bleeding goals, having the sixth worst goals against average; a squeamish 66.7 per cent penalty kill success rate is good for fourth worst, and in both losses the Flames have squandered multiple goal leads, maybe the most glaring of follies.

Lucky for Flames fanatics, the good most definitely outweighs the bad. Scoring in prolific fashion, Calgary sits in sixth spot on the NHL table with 3.60 goals per game. More impressive, though, is how threatening and venomous the team looks on attack thanks to a refreshing can-do attitude from the players and coaching staff.

And Flames supporters are absolutely loving it. The Scotiabank Saddledome’s atmosphere reached fever pitch for the home opener versus the arch-nemesis Canucks. Most fans get ramped up for home openers, but the ambiance inside the ‘Dome exceeded all expectations. Finally, the proverbial sixth man played its part.

Head coach Bob Hartley has implemented compulsory team skates on game day, nullifying any chance of complacency. Rookie Sean Monahan, who turned 19 on Oct. 12 (Happy birthday you old geezer), has started like a flame on an accelerant with four goals and two assists in his first five games in the big show. Heaven forbid the organization sends its sixth overall pick in the 2013 NHL entry draft back down to the juniors after his nine-game threshold. The squad doesn’t have enough depth to contemplate that scenario.

Most rousing is the camaraderie showcased by this upstart unit. Players are fighting for one another and their on-ice performances prove that. Few analysts and broadcasters have given the Flames any chance of making the playoffs.

And while the improbable feat may still just be out of Calgary’s grasp, I bet would-be experts may hold their tongues for a little while longer. The lion’s share of pundits, due to Calgary’s obvious inexperience, still expect the Flames to be doused and starved of oxygen in games to come.

But an impressionable team swelling with confidence and having everything to play for may yet raise some eyebrows in press boxes and locker rooms across the league.

(Photo by Derek Leung/Getty Images)

A tight squeeze from Calgary to London

Opinion

Imagining I am sat on a beach somewhere, sinking into the soft sand splayed out on a reclined lounge chair, gazing out onto the open water with a rum and coke in hand, I can’t help but notice something snatching at my big, protruding toe.

Is it a curious bird? Or, maybe, it’s a harmless sand dweller.

Reality comes crashing down when I realize that an impish infant with cold, piercing devilish eyes is trying his best to pull my toe from its socket.

She may look cute, but her voice is untiring and packs a knockout punch.

She may look cute, but her voice is untiring and it packs a knockout punch.

Welcome to an Air Transat flight from Calgary to London. Numerous babies sporadically strewn about the cabin relentlessly squeal at an intolerable pitch, a pitch one would assume only dogs should have the ability to hear. Passengers are packed in like sardines (I don’t recommend travelling with this no frills supplier if your on the higher side of the body mass index scale), a mother complains about the airline’s in-flight protocols – primarily its absence of seatbelts or add-ons for infants – and, arguably worst of all, Air Transat lives in a land devoid of complimentary booze.

But what does one expect at at such low rates?

Paying just over $600 for a one-way flight across the pond, I shouldn’t be in a position to complain, but will do so anyway. Brief silence, like the tranquil moment before a catastrophic storm makes landfall, befalls the aircraft. Without warning, the silence is blown to smithereens by another wailing toddler.

At least I purchased the rights, for a nominal $20 fee, to pre-emptively reserve an aisle seat. There is ample room for my laptop to sit comfortably on the retractable tray. That is, until the disgruntled mother of the fiendish, evil infant decides to aggressively recline her seat. Jabbing into my stomach, the laptop finally settles at an odd angle, coming to rest on my lap. I have every reason to believe, if the laptop had the ability to scream,  it would join the bevy of babies in their deafening chorus.

I sit on pins and needles to see what gruel will come our way at dinner. And I sit not on pins and needles with anticipation but with the unavoidable numbness overwhelming my lower extremities.

On the upside, only seven hours remain on-board this germ-infested airborne daycare centre.

Societies’ misfits mistreating Budweiser

Opinion

I crave beer like a homeless man craves spare change, which, if attained by a down-and-out is invariably used to purchase booze anyway, but as I poured Budweiser at a promotional event at Roosevelt in Calgary, my affinity for hops, malts and barley truly was put into perspective.

The “king of beers”, which in its own right is a misnomer, was being sold for $4 a pint; not bad considering the exorbitant price beer sells for.

But for some, $4 is still a financial stretch. If you cannot afford a $4 pint I recommend you find alternative ways of drinking. Listerine, for example, is a cheap, potent, ethanol-blended alternative. I hope no one took the last sentence seriously or your alcoholism tendencies may need the immediate attention of a health professional.

As I went about pouring Bud, the most stimulating of activities, an ungainly man with scraggly facial hair ambled towards the imperious Budweiser tap. Busting with excitement, he first asked for price confirmation. Before replying with the good news, his attention, which resembled that of a four-year-old, had shifted focus to a silver metal bucket filled with hour-old spill.

The bucket itself was filthy as its sole purpose was to accommodate for overflow beer. Sitting stagnant, the rancid spill appealed to this miscreant like a glimmering diamond appeals to aristocratic women.

“Can I have the bucket of beer?” he asked with fervour. “Are you going to sell that?”

Dumbfounded, I advised him the beer was old, warm, festering and had been sitting in the heinously dirty bucket for an undetermined period.

“No, it wouldn’t be sold to the public,” I flippantly responded.

As predicted, the information that should have been blatantly obvious without any discourse didn’t faze him in the least. He then asked outright if he could have it, and when I obliged his incomprehensible request, his face lit up like a Christmas tree in Prague.

Jaw agape, I watched him, bucket in hand, walk away with a discernible hop in his step.

Maybe Listerine would have been a preferable option for this misfit, this derelict of society. Wouldn’t Budweiser be proud.