CALGARY – Jarome Iginla likes his training camps short, but the first day will never be sweet for him.
The Flames veterans report to the Pengrowth Saddledome for physical testing Friday and are on the ice Saturday to kick off the training camp for the 2008-09 season.
“I always want to get the testing day over with,” the Flames captain and leading scorer said. “For whatever reason, with everybody, it’s very unpopular with this group of players.
“You always feel good when it’s done and that means that the real fun can start with the on ice and working all the cobwebs out and getting ready for the first game of the season.”
Calgary plays their first pre-season game Tuesday against the Florida Panthers and open the regular season Oct. 9 on the road against the Vancouver Canucks.
The current collective bargaining agreement between the NHL and the players stipulates that veteran players can spend no longer than 20 days at training camp, although Iginla and other veterans have been skating informally at a Calgary arena.
“Camp is fun now that it’s two weeks less than it used to be,” Iginla said. “I do like the idea of a shorter training camp, so it’s a little later start, but it feels like for the last couple weeks we’ve been in the mode of training camp.”
The Flames’ Big Four – Iginla, goaltender Miikka Kiprusoff and defencemen Dion Phaneuf and Robyn Regehr – are the cornerstones of their foundation and as a unit, they’re locked into contracts until the end of 2012-13
General manager Darryl Sutter shifted the supporting cast in the off-season with his most significant moves the acquisition of Mike Cammalleri from the Los Angeles Kings and the free-agent signing of hulking winger Todd Bertuzzi.
The Flames hope they’re an upgrade on Alex Tanguay, who was traded to Montreal, and Kristian Huselius, who signed with Columbus, and that they’ll help bump up the team’s supplementary scoring behind Iginla, who finished third in the NHL’s scoring race last season with 50 goals and 48 assists.
“Some really good players left our club and we know that, but we’ve had some very exciting players join us,” Iginla said. “We’re probably a little bit bigger and little grittier, but I think we’re very skilled. Cammalleri is a very skilled player and Bertuzzi is known to be a big guy, but we’ve already been skating and he has as much skill as anybody.
“We didn’t just go grittier and not skilled.”
Sutter also acquired 25-year-old centre Curtis Glencross from Edmonton, 26-year-old forward Rene Bourque from Chicago and signed enforcer Andre Roy to replace Eric Godard who departed for Pittsburgh.
But it’s Bertuzzi who will attract the most attention early this season because he comes with fistfuls of baggage. Once the premiere power forward in the NHL, he is equally known for his sucker punch to Steve Moore in March 2004 when Bertuzzi played for the Vancouver Canucks.
The Flames signing him to a US$1.95-million, one-year contract in July created buzz both positive and negative in Calgary.
But if the 33-year-old can help the Flames stay atop the tight Northwest Division and get past the first round of playoffs for the first time since their run to the Stanley Cup final of 2004, Flames faithful will look more benignly on his presence.
Meanwhile, Calgary assistant coach Wayne Fleming resigned from his position to accept a head coaching job with Omsk of Russia’s Continental Hockey League.
Fleming originally joined the Flames coaching staff on July 12, 2006 after three seasons as an assistant coach with the Philadelphia Flyers. He also served as an associate coach for Team Canada at the 2002 and 2006 Winter Olympics and the 2004 World Cup of Hockey.
The Flames were running over the US$56.7-million salary cap this summer and took steps to remedy that as they have reportedly put forward Marcus Nilson on waivers to get rid of his $1 million salary.
The Calgary Sun said Thursday that Nilson’s agent J.P. Barry was trying to work out a deal with a Russian club.
The relationship between Kiprusoff, the 2006 Vezina Trophy winner, and head coach Mike Keenan is a subplot heading into training camp.
Keenan pulled Kiprusoff twice in Calgary’s seven-game playoff series against the San Jose Sharks and the second time in Game 7.
Iginla hit the 50-goal mark for the second time in his career last season. His 94 and 98 points the last two seasons respectively are his best since he won the NHL’s scoring trophy in 2002.
Since NHL introduced rule changes to reward the fast and skilled in the league, Iginla, 31, has focused more on streamlining his body than bulking up in the off-season.
“The last couple winters I felt really good from what I was doing in the summer,” he said. “I was trying to keep the weight lower and make sure I’m flexible.”
“When I was younger, I used to laugh at the older guys seeing them stretch and now that’s me.”