CALGARY – Back from a 10-day vacation, the Calgary Flames hit the ice on Wednesday afternoon for the first time since beating the Anaheim Ducks 3-1 at home on Feb. 13.
National Hockey League teams were allowed to hold organized practices once again for the first time since the men’s hockey competition began at the Olympic Winter Games in Vancouver.
“Every team’s doing the same thing,” said Calgary coach Brent Sutter, who put his players through a variety of skating and puck-handling drills during an hour-long ice session at the Pengrowth Saddledome. “We had no more advantage than anybody else.”
Of course, the Flames were practising without captain Jarome Iginla, who’s in Vancouver playing for Canada, along with forward Niklas Hagman and goaltender Miikka Kiprusoff, who are competing for Finland.
Sutter said the coaching staff will gradually implement more complex teaching drills into practices leading up to Calgary’s first game after the break at home against the Minnesota Wild on March 3.
“We’ve got to be careful here these first few days,” Sutter cautioned. “We’re going to have an opportunity as we get along here to really start getting into our systems and stuff. I think these first few days, it’s just getting their legs back under them and getting their hands going and work on some skills.”
While other players took advantage of the break to escape to warmer climates, forward Daymond Langkow said he enjoyed getting time to relax at home with his family.
“It was good to get a good rest,” Langkow said. “It’s a break we needed. Just because of the Olympics, the schedule is compressed and we’re playing a lot of hockey so it was good.”
While players got some rest and relaxation during the break, they also made sure to keep up on their physical conditioning knowing that they would be back on the ice a week in advance of their first post-Olympic game.
“Guys have done a good job of staying in shape through the break and it showed out there today,” Langkow said. “It was a good practice, a good warmup to get us started.”
Sutter was impressed with how the players kept up on their conditioning during their time off.
“We had the type of practice we wanted to have today just to get our flow back, get our legs back under us and just get handling the puck,” he said.
“I thought the guys all looked really good. They’re professionals. They understood our situation leaving and where we’re at and what we need to do when we get back here.”
Defenceman Cory Sarich definitely enjoyed some time away from the game but was excited to get back on the ice.
“Everything is so intense,” he said. “It’s nice to get a mental break, nice to give the body the chance to heal up too. I had a few bumps and bruises that are gone now. There’s a few days of practice here and we’ll be back to the mental grind.”
Veteran forward Craig Conroy, who has missed 17 games this season with injuries to his wrist, foot and knee, used the break to get back into game shape.
“I’m ready,” proclaimed Conroy. “It was perfect. It gave me an extra week or so. With my knee, I just feel like OK now everything’s healed up and we’re ready to go. Hopefully I have a great 20 games.”
Hailing from Potsdam, N.Y., Conroy has also enjoyed watching the United States rack up results at the Olympic Winter Games to lead the medal standings, although he admitted to having mixed emotions in regards to the men’s hockey competition.
“All the other sporting events, figure skating and all that stuff, we’ve been rooting for USA all along,” said Conroy, who was happy to see the U.S. beat Switzerland 2-0 in quarter-final action on Wednesday afternoon. “It’s tough with the hockey, because you do have friends and stuff, but everything else is easy.”
With Kiprusoff still in Vancouver, the Flames recruited fifth-year University of Calgary Dinos’ goaltender Jeff Weber as a practice goalie.
“I wish him the best out there and I’m happy to be his replacement,” said Weber, who also filled in a couple times last season and went to training camp with the Flames two summers ago. “Those are big shoes to fill – that’s for sure.”
Calgary goalie coach Jamie McLennan recruited Weber to fill in during Kiprusoff’s absence.
“I’ve developed a good relationship with these guys over the past couple of years, working for them and playing with the Dinos, so we’ve stayed close,” Weber said.
“I was ecstatic when Jamie thought of me first. I’d love to go play pro when my career is done here at U of C and if the opportunity arises, that’d be great. If not, this is a great way to go out of a hockey career, saying that I was playing in the NHL.”