Johnson: Ex-Flames stars getting glorious chances to finally win a Cup
Regehr hoping to help defending champion L.A. repeat
While channel-surfing past ESPN Sportscentre one night while still in the employ of the Buffalo Sabres last year, Robyn Regehr first spotted his old boss, Darryl Sutter, wearing a walnut-hued tan as effortlessly as sauve George Hamilton.
Sutter not only looked brown, but positively radioactive.
Only weeks after taking control of the L.A. Kings last year, too.
A set of prepaid salon visits, obviously. Had to be.
“When I first saw him on TV,” laughs Regehr, as the sound of a howling wind whistles through his cellphone on the walk back from the Scottrade Center to the L.A. Kings’ hotel late Monday afternoon, “I thought the same thing. I said to myself ‘What’s up with that?!’
“But after being in L.A. for even a short period of time — what is it now, three, three and a half weeks, for me? — you can understand. It’s SO beautiful down there. Hot. A lot of days not a cloud in the sky.
“Pretty nice, weather-wise.”
Not bad hockey-wise, either.
Sutter and his defending Stanley Cup champions, with Regehr now in tow, launch their quest for a repeat starting tonight against a team built in their mirror-image, the sizable, strong, sandpapery St. Louis Blues.
With the Calgary Flames in the first, tentative throes of a full-blown rebuild, three exes among their number — Regehr, Jarome Iginla in Pittsburgh and Jay Bouwmeester in St. Loo — all must believe they’ve finally landed legitimate shots at hoisting that rickety, jug-eared silver mug over their heads for the first time in long careers.
For Regehr and Iginla, it’d provide a cooling dollop of salve for the third-degree burns left by that seven-game finale heartbreak back in 2004. For Bouwmeester, this marks his NHL playoff baptism after 10 seasons in the league.
And on a contender, no less.
With decorated old campaigners like Willie Mitchell and Matt Greene, both cogs in last spring’s title run, gone via injury, Sutter asked GM Dean Lombardi to look to an old ally, rescuing Regehr on April 1st from the going-nowhere-fast Buffalo Sabres in exchange for a pair of second-round draft picks.
“He’s an identity player and that’s why he’s sought-after, because he’s a top character guy and he understands his role as a team player and he’s all the good things that don’t get noticed,” raved the Jolly Rancher to the L.A. Times the day of the deal.
“Good pro, good leader, good competitor. He’s a winner.”
There’s no doubting that the Sutter prodded the best out of the big, bruising defencemen during their formative days together here. That’s when Regehr’s rock-’em sock-’em style was feared hither and yon across the league and that infamous Tunnel of Death, the lane down the boards on his side of the ice, was open for business, relentlessly in search of casualties.
“Fundamentally, Darryl’s the same guy,” says Regehr. “I do think going to back to his San Jose days, then to Calgary and now L.A., if you talk to guys who were with him at those different times, I think he’s mellowed a little bit in each succeeding stop, though.
“He’s still a very demanding person. That’s the same. That’ll always be the same. He wants everyone to be accountable. To overachieve. That’s what he’s driving guys for, because he believes that they can. Really, he’s the same guy but maybe now he can get away from hockey a little bit down in L.A. Talking to him, he’s able to walk down on the beach for a couple hours to clear his head and nobody bugs him.
“In Calgary, you’re not able to do that.
“I was very familiar with Darryl, obviously, and how he operated, so I had to take advantage of the opportunity (to play for him again) when it presented itself.
“The way he gets players to play is what’s important. It’s a very disciplined, hard, physical style he demands. And when you kind of look at it, that’s the template for successful hockey in the playoffs.
“I enjoy playing that way. I’m comfortable playing that way. So I think it’s a good fit.”
Regehr, as everyone in this town knows, was the first of the Big Three, the cornerstones of the ’04 drive, to leave, on June 25 2011, dealt always to the Sabres. Well, Iginla’s gone now, too. And Miikka Kiprusoff’s on his way.
“Yeah, it does seem like a long time ago now,” acknowledges Regehr. “I guess because there’s been a lot that’s happened, especially for me with a couple of moves. Every time, you become a little more removed. It’s just a different feeling. Over time, you’re less sensitive to what’s going in place you’ve played before.
“What concerns you is the present. New team. New teammates. New equipment. New city. New everything. It’s a big change.
“The move to Buffalo harder, though, because I’d been in Calgary such a long time. You get so used to things in a city, at a rink, in a dressing room. You’re comfortable there. I’m sure Jarome feels the same way. And Bouw. Now you’re stepping into a different team. In Buffalo, I knew one player, Jordan Leopold, when I got there. In L.A., I didn’t really know anyone, outside of Darryl.”
The lure of laying hands on the ultimate prize is a worthwhile trade-off for a period of unfamiliarity, though. Better even than a SoCal tan.
“Last spring, maybe (the Kings) did catch a few teams by surprise during the playoffs, being the eighth seed and everything. That’s not going to happen this year. It’s going to be a battle. But we’ve put ourselves in a position. We’ve got a good team that plays playoff-style hockey. We’ve got a shot at it.”
Back with the man who orchestrated his last — no, his only — serious run at a title, Robyn Regehr, at age 33, knows he can’t roll back the odometer, replace the years on a calendar. This, for him, represents an opportunity to be taken. There is nothing beyond the next few weeks, the next couple of months, hopefully.
Iginla, at 35, undoubtedly feels the same way in Pittsburgh.
And Bouwmeester, at 29, in St. Louis, too.
“As a player, I just wanted that opportunity again,” says Regehr, on the eve of the quest. “To get another shot at it. Especially at this point in time in my career, at my age. You can’t play forever. You start running out of opportunities and before you know it . . .
“You want to be in the playoffs. You want to be on a team that has a chance to win. There are certain things that need to fall into place, for sure.
“The Stanley Cup is what we all strive for. That’s why we’re in it. That never changes.”
George Johnson is the Herald’s sports columnist. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org
Follow George Johnson on Twitter/GeorgejohnsonCH
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