CALGARY – With their Olympians back in the fold, the Calgary Flames took to the ice Tuesday morning to prepare for their first NHL game in 18 days.
One day prior to Wednesday night’s home game against the Minnesota Wild, the Flames welcomed back captain Jarome Iginla, along with forward Niklas Hagman and goalie Miikka Kiprusoff.
While Iginla helped lead Canada to a gold medal at the Olympic Winter Games in Vancouver, Hagman and Kiprusoff won bronze with Finland.
“It’s nice to see the guys again and they’re all recharged,” said Iginla, who’s primed and ready to get back into action with the Flames. “I’m looking forward to it.”
Iginla is still basking in the glory of setting up Sidney Crosby’s gold medal-winning goal in overtime against the United States in Sunday’s final.
“It was the best hockey moment I had when I saw it actually go in and we had done it,” said Iginla, who also helped Canada win gold in Salt Lake City in 2002. “It’s just good to be a part of it and part of the gold medals, setting a record for Canada. I’m definitely proud of the whole Olympic team and proud to be Canadian. It was awesome.”
While Kiprusoff would have rather been competing for gold, he was pleased to help Finland to a 5-3 win over Slovakia in the bronze medal game on Saturday night.
“It was a tough loss (a 6-1 rout by the U.S.) the night before, but we knew it was going to be a big game for us and a big game for Finland so we were ready to go,” Kiprusoff said. “The team bounced back really strong and it was huge bronze medal for us.”
Hagman concurred with his countryman.
“At the end of the day winning a bronze medal, it was really good and we’re really happy that we managed to win the last game,” said Hagman, who the Flames acquired in a seven-player deal with the Toronto Maple Leafs on Jan. 31 that saw defenceman Dion Phaneuf go the other way.
With the Flames (30-23-9) currently situated in ninth spot, just out of the Western Conference playoff picture, Calgary’s Olympic trio will have to refocus their attentions to helping the squad rise in the standings.
“When the puck drops tomorrow, I don’t think it’s going to be an issue,” Hagman said. “I have plenty of energy. There isn’t too many games left so you want to play well and get the points that we need.”
Having already appeared in 55 of 62 games this season for the Flames, Kiprusoff declared himself ready to play the majority of Calgary’s games down the stretch if needed.
“It’s good to be back here with my guys,” Kiprusoff said. “We know where we’re at now and we know we need to win some hockey games starting tomorrow against Minnesota. They’re right there behind us too and we have to try to put them away and at the same time try to climb and take that playoff spot. It’s going to be a lot of work, but I think we’re ready.”
Heading down the stretch, Iginla said the Flames are fired up to make up the ground they lost during a miserable nine-game winless streak in January.
“Guys are fresh,” said Iginla, who entrusted his daughter to take his gold medal to show and tell at her kindergarten class on Tuesday. “I don’t think it’ll be a grind. This is the most fun time to play right up until playoffs. You talk all year about how important games are all year, but this is it.”
As for Wednesday afternoon’s NHL trade deadline and the fact that the Flames currently have 16 forwards vying for 12 roster spots, Iginla said it’s definitely an anxious time of year.
“We have a lot of people and guys are probably a little bit more antsy than usual when there’s that many bodies around,” he said. “We don’t really control a lot as players. We really don’t know anything that’s happening or possibilities or anything like that.”
On Monday, Calgary general manager Darryl Sutter said it’s unlikely he’ll make any major moves, while noting he’s comfortable with keeping extra players around to avoid the injury problems and salary cap issues the Flames faced late last season.
On Tuesday, head coach Brent Sutter added that players will have to earn their spots in the lineup each night.
“If we want to have success we need everyone to play at a high level,” he said. “It’s exciting to have everyone back. It’s exciting to know that the first game is right there for us as far as playing. We know our situation and now we have to respond and challenge ourselves to react properly.”