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Defensive duo find chemistry

by Torie Peterson / Calgary Flames

After years of facing off against one another, Cory Sarich and Jay Bouwmeester now find themselves together on the Calgary Flames and developing into the team's most dependable defensive tandem.

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For four seasons, Sarich and Bouwmeester regularly squared off when their teams, the Tampa Bay Lightning and Florida Panthers, respectively, battledin the Southeast Division. While Sarich may have gotten the last laugh when the Lightning won the Stanley Cup in 2004, he vividly remembers just how tough of a competitor Bouwmeester can be.

"He was down in my corner. I usually wasn’t down in his corner," he smirked. "I was probably trying to run him whenever I got a chance. It was probably our job with a guy like that who skates the puck as well as he does and sees the ice as well as he does."

When asked to pinpoint what is Bouwmeester's best asset is, he struggled to name just one.

“The way he skates, the way he moves the puck up the ice. He breaks the puck out of his end well. He’s calm with the puck. He’s one of those guys whose really good at getting his shot through to the net. It’s very hard to block his shot so you always want guys like that on your team.”

Sarich missed the first five games of the season as he nursed a sore ankle but has quickly gotten back into game-form with the help of his new partner.

"Playing with him, he makes the game easier. He skates so well and he moves all over the place," he said. "He’s in my corner, picking out pucks and doing different things like that. So far, so good. We’ve read well off each other and I think we’ve done a good job against the other teams."

A good job indeed. Since being paired with Bouwmeester on Oct. 16 against the Vancouver Canucks, Sarich has registered an assist - his first point of the season - and holds a plus-three rating. Bouwmeester's play has also flourished. Since being coupled with Sarich, he's collected three points and has a plus-four rating.

Sarich believes his gritty, physical style is complimented by Bouwmeester smooth skating, puck-moving style. While Sarich tends to bowl the opposition over, Bouwmeester simply presses them out of the play with his positioning. Both of these styles in one pairing presents a big challenge to the opposition's forecheckers.

"With today’s rules, running around and being physical, it still needs to happen but you really have to pick your spots," he said. "As long as you’re taking guys out of the play, whether it’s with your stick or your body. As long as you’re effective. Guys get it done different ways. We’ve got guys that run guys out there then you’ve got guys that just seem to be in the right position."

Bouwmeester has always been a workhorse in terms of his ice time and this year is no different. As of Saturday, he was averaging 26:54 of playing time - just five seconds short of his league-leading average last season. Given the depth of the Flames blueline, many suspected Bouwmeester's ice time would be cut down slightly but Sarich believes that even though his minutes are on par with prior seasons, his workload is a bit lighter.

"I think it’s maybe been different for him out here because coaches stress, especially on defense, not leading rushes much but joining rushes," Sarich noted. "When you’re leading rushes, that’s when you tend to get in a little bit of trouble, when you really get yourself deep in the zone. But when you’re adding to and joining rushes, it’s very effective. For him it’s a piece of cake because in Florida a lot of the times he was dragging that puck, the first guy up the ice a lot of the times so I think it’s made his job a little easier to do."

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