Frustration builds as Flames’ home opener comes to pass
Players left practising on day they would have hosted the Vancouver Canucks
Mark Giordano is positive — opening night would have been a roaring success.
A win over the dastardly Vancouver Canucks? Why, of course.
But, of course, we will never know.
Thursday, the retooled Calgary Flames were supposed to jump into the regular season against their arch-rivals in the Northwest Division. But with the National Hockey League lockout entrenched — closing in on four weeks now — there had been no sign of action at the Saddledome.
“No question it’s very disappointing all the way around,” Jarome Iginla said. “I know it’s disappointing for fans, for everybody involved. (The NHL owners and the Players’ Association) are still talking. Hopefully, we can get back pretty soon. You appreciate it all the time while you’re playing, but especially when you’re not. It’s a lot of fun, but this stuff, obviously, isn’t as much fun.
“It needs to get worked out. Hopefully, we don’t miss too many more games.”
One subplot — the delayed debuts of Jiri Hudler, Dennis Wideman, Roman Cervenka; the delayed debuts of Bob Hartley and his coaching staff — is not lost on the Flames’ regulars.
“Every year you’re optimistic,” Giordano said of the new-look (but heretofore unseen) club. “I think our goal as a team has to be to get into the playoffs. We want to get into the playoffs and go from there. I think building confidence along the way is the first step.”
Not to nitpick, but the first step is nailing down a new collective bargaining agreement.
Cory Sarich admitted that the lid-lifting significance of Oct. 11 had not been on his mind. (Monday, by the way, the Flames had been scheduled to host Darryl Sutter and the Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings.)
“I almost kind of forgot about it because there hasn’t been any hype,” said Sarich. “The difficult part of it is, I haven’t been thinking about it because there’s been nothing to really sink your teeth into. It’s been kind of quiet on the negotiating front.”
Not that he’s shocked.
“I felt that, heading into the end of the summer, we’d get to this point (of a stalemate), for sure,” said Sarich. “Based on what went around last time (in 2004-05), I put two and two together and pictured it being this way.”
So Game 1 has gone poof — and with it, the first day of the first pay period of the season.
Meaning, officially now, players are losing salary.
“I don’t think I’ve thought too much about that,” said Giordano. “As players we have all made a good living up to this point. It’s about getting a deal done — and a fair deal — as soon as possible. Right now, it’s more about the routine and working. Right now, you’re not working and you’re not in your day-to-day routine. The days do get long.”
Added Sarich: “There’s a lot of guys I hear saying, ‘Oh now, with missing games and stuff, it’s starting to sink in.’ I guess because I’ve been through it once . . . I’ve been mentally prepared for it, in advance of a few guys.”
With negotiating progress at a snail’s pace, with the distinct possibility of another full-season lockout, how long can players keep going through the motions? Four days a week they zip around WinSport’s Ice Complex, with Calgary Dinos skipper Mark Howell providing the whip.
Thursday, there had been 21 gents on the ice, Flames players making up the bulk of the participants.
“Whatever we’re doing for our workouts,” said Iginla, “it’s hard when you don’t know if it’s going to be for next week, two weeks, two months, or whenever — so that’s a little bit different.”
During the 2004-05 work stoppage, Sarich and his Tampa Bay Lightning teammates skated like mad for October and November.
“In December, we cut it back to two or three times a week,” he recalled. “January got very weak, our numbers were so down. You’d try to get on the ice a little bit, but by then it almost felt like the writing was on the wall. By the end of January, skates were almost null and void. Guys were just trying to stay in shape doing other stuff off the ice.”
What about now?
“We’ll just keep going and plan accordingly,” Sarich said. “We’re still hoping there’s going to be a good chunk of the season. No one’s lost hope here.”
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