Day 1 with happiness but injury news

- January 13th, 2013

There were a couple hundred people in the stands waiting.
The fans cheered when the first wave of Calgary Flmaes players hit the Saddledome ice.
The next applause happened when top prospect Sven Baertschi emerged from the tunnel.
Then came more when the likes of Miikka Kiprusoff and Alex Tanguay made their presence felt.
Yep, the Flames were back and Day 1 of training camp was mostly high times.
“It almost felt like a big game day,” said Flames head coach Bob Hartley. “This is great.”
The news wasn’t all great, though.
Flames captain Jarome Iginla didn’t skate due to a groin issue (“tightness”) he said happened Tuesday when he tried to ramp up his skating.
“I would love to be out there with them, but hopefully it’s one more day, day-to-day and never look back,” said Iginla, who went through a worse situation at last year’s camp with a back issue.
The Flames opened camp Sunday with 32 players and must be at a 23-man roster by Friday.
Newcomer Roman Cervenka won’t be on the ice for a spell. He will need to see a specialist in regards to the blood clot-issues caused more than a month ago while playing in the KHL.
Flames GM Jay Feaster reported Cervenka no longer has a blood clot in his leg, but the team wants him to receive the all-clear after being on blood thinners. He won’t be in action until there’s no extra risk if he’s cut or bruised.
As well, defenceman Anton Babchuk, who played in KHL during the lockout, has a shoulder injury expected to keep him out three weeks.
Still, when the nearly two-hour session ended, the fans cheered and the players gave them a salute.
“It’s nice to see some fans out here,” said forward Alex Tanguay. “I know they’ve been very patient with the situation we’ve been in and they have the right to be frustrated.
“I remember in 1994-95, I was a fan of the (Quebec) Nordiques and I remember how I felt, not being able to cheer for the team I liked.
“We’ve got a great fan base in Calgary and … we’re going to try to put together something exciting for them.”

Farewell to a friend

- September 7th, 2012

Day 7
Sept. 8, 2:30 a.m., Yaroslavl
I’m not sure whether it was the busy schedule or the lack of somebody to actually go for a drink with, but until now I haven’t had any vodka in Russia.
And that’s despite being in the country since Sunday.
For some reason, it seems the time is right.
After a day covering the one-year anniversary of the Yaroslavl Lokmotiv disaster, it feels like the right thing to do — enjoy a shot of a drink synonymous with Russia.
It’s not because of the emotional gamut which comes with talking to widows and children of those lost.
It’s not from having witnessed memorial events with so much sadness. (Although, after this much time away, I always REALLY miss my beautiful wife, Michelle, and our suddenly older-than-they-should-be children.)
No, it’s time because it’s one way I know to say goodbye and farewell to Brad.
Brad McCrimmon was an assistant coach of the Calgary Flames for the first two-and-a-half seasons I covered the team.
I was told his nickname was Beast. It should be Teddy Bear.
Underneath that big exterior was a heart of gold, with a quick wit and an quicker laugh.
I can’t recall a conversation without Brad that I didn’t walk away with at least a smile, usually a laugh.
It seems right to give him a toast right now.
Cheers Brad.
I’m sorry. But I don’t know it in Russian.

You know that’s Wayne Gretzky, right?

- September 4th, 2012

Day 4
Sept. 4, 10 p.m. in Moscow
The applause was muted. It makes you wonder whether the fans at the KHL’s season opening game between Dynamo Moscow and Avangard Omsk really understood who had stepped on the ice.
Before the puck dropped on the clash between last year’s champions (Dynamo) and Omsk at the Megasport Arena, Wayne Gretzky, Mark Messier, Brett Hull, Ken Dryden and Mike Keenan stepped onto the ice, along with a handful of Russian greats.
The reaction from the crowd was at first subdued, almost in disbelief those players were indeed real.
It really shouldn’t come as a big surprise. It was not well advertised those famous players and coach from the NHL were in town, let alone going to be at the first game of the KHL season, now known as the Lokomotiv Cup, in honour of those who died in the plane crash nearly one year ago.
Prior to the game, photos of all those who perished in the disaster were shown on the big screen, and those in the crowd were urged to hold their cell phones aloft with the light to serve as candles.
Now, it’s off to St. Petersburg for the first of the two games players on this tour are partaking.
To get there, yours truly will discover a truly Russian experience. I’ll be getting there from Moscow on an overnight train, departing at 1 a.m. local time and arriving around 8:30 a.m.
Wish me luck.

Moss to the Phoenix Coyotes

- July 1st, 2012

For a few moments, it appeared yet another Flames player would return to the team.

Reports circulated David Moss signed a two-year deal with the only NHL team he’s known, but Moss has officially left the club after inking a two-year pact with the Phoenix Coyotes.

Moss scored 20 goals in the 2008-09 season, but has struggled with injuries in each of the last three seasons, which limited him to 154 games in those years and 17 goals.

The Flames did make “serious offers” according to Moss’s agent, Howard Gourwitz.

Flames do the expected with qualifying offers

- June 25th, 2012

What, were you expecting something wild and crazy, such as offering every draft pick you own just to move up two spots in the first round?

(The Islanders apparently did that in the hopes of moving from No. 4 to No. 2 this weekend, but were rebuffed by the Columbus Blue Jackets. I’m still not sure what’s crazier, making such an offer or not taking it, but that’s another tale.)

The Flames announced Monday they’ve made qualifying offers to pending restricted free agents Mikael Backlund, Leland Irving, Akim Aliu, Paul Byron and Blair Jones.

In turn, Blake Comeau, Ryley Grantham and Logan MacMillan weren’t given offers, therefore will become unrestricted free agents.

All those moves are obvious. Backlund is coming off a disappointing, injury-filled season and it’s coming time to prove he’s a legitimate top-six player, but we’re talking about a 2007 pick who just completed his entry level contract and has so much growing to do in his game.

Irving took some big strides last season and showed quite well during his NHL stints, but also lost the starter’s job in Abbotsford at playoff time. However, he and Henrik Karlsson are pegged to battle for the No. 2 job in Calgary, and don’t be shocked if the loser in that battle ends up playing in Europe.

Jones, who was a solid player after coming over via trade in early January before suffering a broken foot, is in the plans as a third- or fourth-line centre.

Aliu and Byron will be given solid looks to making the Flames this season, but both have to earn it. Aliu has all kinds of size and talent, but has had trouble keeping his head together in years past. As for Byron, the small but skilled forward, has to mature his game.

As for the trio allowed to walk. I’m guessing the Flames would like to re-sign Comeau at a lower price, but a player who collected just five goals and 15 points on year after scoring 24 goals must prove he still has game.That kind of season isn’t worth a US$2.5 million ticket.

Comeau has plenty of tools to be a good NHLer, especially speed, but was far too inconsistent last season, as well as lost his scoring touch. He would be a good third-line winger. Whether he has to take a big cut – say half of what he received last season – or receives a similar contract elsewhere remains to be seen.

As for MacMillan and Grantham, they’re both a case of showing nothing more than being career minor leaguers. MacMillan was a first-round draft choice of the Anaheim Ducks a few years ago, and appears to have fallen off the map. Grantham doesn’t appear to have the potential to be a NHLer, so it’s the right move by the Flames to not have him signed to a NHL contract.