The time has finally arrived.
Last season is nothing but a blur in the rear view mirror with the new season growing more prominent on the horizon by the hour.
And as sailors lost at sea rejoice at the first sight of land on their horizon, knowing endless days of futility have finally passed, so do impatient hockey fans on the dawn of training camp.
Prospects were put through the paces down at the Pengrowth Saddledome at the start of the week, with the veterans arriving for fitness testing Saturday.
The 2009-10 campaign marks the 30th Anniversary of the Flames in Calgary. In celebration, the team has released a retro jersey reminiscent of the 1980’s teams that set the standard for excellence that subsequent squads have aspired to since.
Perhaps no team since the Flames’ glory days of yore has faced the weight of expectation as this year’s team, making it appropriate that they will be rocking a vintage Flaming C during various games throughout the year.
But the expectations are welcome going into a season where management has done nearly everything in its power to put the players in a position to succeed.
Re-establishing defensive dominance was the stated priority of the offseason, and general manager Darryl Sutter made bold moves to assemble a team that the opposition will loathe lining up against night after night.
While many of the faces on the team are familiar, there is plenty of fresh blood in camp. The biggest move of the offseason was the complete overhaul of the coaching staff.
The Flames hired Brent Sutter as head coach, Dave Lowry as assistant coach and promoted Ryan McGill from head coach of the Flames top farm team to assistant coach.
They have been charged with realizing the potential of a team as deep and as talented as any in the league. The imprint that the coaches will impose on the players from their first meeting will be of responsibility everywhere on the ice, as coach Sutter has made it clear that he expects smart two-way play from everyone involved.
Competition will be fierce between the newbies and the old guard, as everyone is starting from scratch under the new coaching group.
So with no further adieu, let’s break down the invitees player by player:
Rene Bourque – Can last season’s breakout star pick up where he left off before injuries derailed the best season of his career?
Dustin Boyd – Last season was a tough one for Boyd, who was perpetually stuck in salary-cap purgatory. Sutter coached him in the WJC’s, and will know how to push Boyd’s buttons.
Craig Conroy – Now the elder statesman of the group, Conroy strong leadership and soothing influence will help offset what will undoubtedly be at times constrictive pressure.
Curtis Glencross – Another breakout performer last season, more opportunity should result in the further elevation of his game.
Jarome Iginla – The big man on campus is ready to do what he does best: score, fight, and lead (in no particular order).
Olli Jokinen – Having fully acclimatized himself to competitive hockey following his arrival last season, Jokinen is a prime candidate to ascend into superstardom this year. He is going to be called upon to be the ‘two’ in the Flames ‘one-two’ punch, and provide the offense that departed during the offseason. Jokinen has all the tools, and this year he’ll be given every opportunity to use them.
Daymond Langkow – An ideal player for the young Flames to model themselves after, but Langkow is so quiet and consistent that his contributions often go unnoticed. Expect another solid year from this vital cog in the Flames machine.
Jamie Lundmark – An excellent contributor after being called up late last season, Lundmark will have every chance to prove he belongs in the show full-time.
David Moss – The most likely successor to Rene Bourque as this year’s breakout star, Moss will undoubtedly be given top line consideration by the coaches. His skill and fearlessness in front of the net make him invaluable to the Flames attack.
Eric Nystrom – Nystrom shone during the Flames brief foray into the playoffs last season, really seeming to find his niche on the team. If that’s the case, improved offensive output could perfectly complement the rest of his game.
Brandon Prust – Re-acquired in the offseason after being traded to Phoenix in the Jokinen deal, Prust is a pest par-excellance who is ready, willing, and able to get under the skin of the rest of the NHL
Mark Giordano – The speedy d-man was a crucial, though often overlooked component of the Flames attack last season. The blueline depth enjoyed by the Flames may result in Giordano being overlooked initially, but don’t expect his skill to fly under the radar for long.
Adam Pardy – Rarely looked out of place after having enormous responsibility heaped on his shoulders as the bodies fell last season. Pardy will have the benefit of playing along with the most imposing defensive group in the league, allowing him to develop at his own pace.
Dion Phaneuf – With his old junior coach at the helm, expect a return to form from the menacing blueliner. Sutter will know just how to push and prod Phaneuf back into wreaking havoc on the rest of the league.
Robyn Regehr – The disappointment stemming from the freak injury that shortened Regehr’s season, along with the team’s re-emphasis on defence, will re-fuel the big man’s fire, to the detriment of opposing forwards everywhere.
Cory Sarich – An absolute warrior last season, Sarich played the end of the season on a broken foot. Healed, rested, and ready to rock, Sarich
Miikka Kiprusoff – A whole new defensive system has been introduced, the blueline has been revamped, but at the end of the day, it’s all down to Kiprusoff to make the stops.
Curtis McElhinney – Should be given more, and better, opportunities to spell Kiprusoff throughout the season.
Nigel Dawes – Darryl Sutter admitted interest in Dawes for some time after signing him, feeling Dawes is an offensive force that hasn’t yet been tapped.
Theo Fleury -- Invited to camp on a tryout basis. A familiar new face for Flames fans tries to make a comeback at age 41
Jason Jaffray – Jaffray has his work cut out for him going into camp, but the coaches are familiar with him from his junior hockey days, and know that full or part-time, he will be a valuable contributor.
Brian McGrattan – After a tough season both physically and emotionally last year, McGrattan is ready to come in and fill the role of resident tough-guy for the Flames.
Fredrik Sjostrom – The former Calgary Hitmen forward is elated to be back at the ‘Dome, and will earn his keep with strong, consistent two-way play.
Jay Bouwmeester – The prize free-agent of the offseason was scooped up before the feeding frenzy could even begin by Darryl Sutter. Having spent his entire career in Florida, Bouwmeester is somewhat enigmatic around these parts, but fans will quickly realize how special he is when they see him on the ice.
Staffan Kronwall – With about 50 NHL games under his belt, this is Kronwalls chance to earn more responsibility and playing-time at the top level.
Anton Stralman – Has the speed and offensive tools to be useful, but will be in tough to crack the deep defensive corps.
Keep your eye on…
John Armstrong – Injuries during last camp slowed one of its' biggest surprises. Expect the big forward to turn a few heads again this time around.
Mikael Backlund – Looked like man among boys at the summer prospect camp. Backlund may not make the roster from day one, but will more likely be brought in during the season for an offensive spark.
Kyle Greentree – Last season’s leading scorer in Quad City will get a solid look, but like Backlund may be a casualty of the Flames’ depth.
Greg Nemisz – One of the top players on last years’ Memorial Cup winning team in Windsor, Nemisz will likely challenge those who say he’s still a ways away with his performance in camp.