CALGARY – When Alex Tanguay broke into the NHL with the Colorado Avalanche back in 1999 he had two options.
He could switch from his natural centre position and play left-wing on a line with Joe Sakic, or he could watch from the press box.
“I became a left-wing then and I’ve been that ever since,” said Tanguay, who was also behind Peter Forsberg and Stephane Yelle on Colorado’s depth chart at centre. “It was fun for me to get to watch some of the best players. I knew I wasn’t going to play that position so I made the adjustment.”
Bob Hartley, who was Colorado’s coach at the time, recalled that he initially tried Tanguay out at centre a few times during practice.
“But we had so many options with Joe and Forsberg,” said Hartley, who was reunited with Tanguay when he signed on to coach the Calgary Flames late last May. “He was a young kid coming in with no NHL experience. To be on Joe’s wing was not a bad thing…better being on the left-wing than eating popcorn upstairs.”
Now, 13 seasons later, Hartley made the decision to put Tanguay back at centre for the first three days of Flames training camp.
“It’s been a while since I played centre,” said Tanguay, who won a Stanley Cup with Hartley in Colorado in 2001. “I used to play it in juniors (with the Halifax Mooseheads of the QMJHL). I know how to play it. It’s going to take a little bit of time and I’m going to take as many days as possible to hopefully be ready.”
With Calgary’s home opener slated for this Sunday against the San Jose Sharks, that doesn’t leave much time.
“I’m looking forward to the next few days of practice and hopefully I can improve and get better,” Tanguay said. “I did some video with the coaches on the centre position and what to do and what not to do.
“I’m looking forward to the challenge. It’s a great opportunity and we’ll see how it goes.”
Curtis Glencross has been impressed with how much improvement Tanguay has shown so far.
“Obviously, it’s not something that he’s going to be an expert at overnight,” said Glencross, who has played left-wing on Tanguay’s line all three days. “It’s going to take a little bit and every day he’s better and better. Alex has such good vision of the ice and he’s such a smart player.
“He doesn’t really get himself in too many problems. A good player like that can manoeuvre between different positions really easily.”
Blake Comeau played on Calgary’s top line the first two days before Hartley decided to put Lee Stempniak in the right-wing spot on Wednesday.
“I think he’s a natural,” Stempniak said of Tanguay. “You just get your stick down and try to get open and more often than not, he’ll find you, which is a lot of fun for someone who likes to shoot the puck.”
Of course, captain Jarome Iginla is pencilled in to play on the top line once he has recovered from his groin injury.
“I think Iggy’s spot is pretty secure,” Stempniak said.
If all goes well, Iginla could make his debut at Flames training camp on Wednesday.
“He’s doing so well that he’s begging me to let him on the ice,” Hartley said. “Tomorrow morning, he’s going to come in, we’re going to test him in the gym and if everything feels good, he’s going to be on the ice.”
For the third straight day, Mikael Backlund centred Calgary’s second line between left-winger Sven Baertschi and right-winger Michael Cammalleri.
“I like the chemistry,” Hartley said. “It seems that Cammy is having fun with the two kids. It’s a good leadership role for Cammy.”
That being said, Hartley added that he might switch things up a bit before Calgary’s season starts on Sunday.
“If there’s one thing about me, I’m not scared to change my lines, so you never know,” he said.
The Flames are still uncertain as to whether forward Jiri Hudler will make it back in time for Calgary’s first game.
Hudler’s father, Jiri Hudler Sr., passed away on Monday and his funeral will take place this Friday in Olomouc, Czech Republic.
“He has bigger things on his mind,” Hartley said. “He’ll take care of his family. He’ll do what’s right.”
Once Hudler returns from the Czech Republic, Hartley said everyone in the Flames’ organization will show their support as best as they can.
“We always try to say the right things to make sure that he feels good, but more importantly that he knows that we’re with him,” Hartley said.