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Flames building towards the big prize

by Staff Writer / Calgary Flames
Jarome Iginla sees the Calgary Flames rising.

"I think, as a player, you look at it and in order to win you need a good goalie and Miikka Kiprusoff is one of the best in the world. And with our defence and guys like Reggie (Robyn Regehr) staying on, it is solid. Reggie is one of the hardest guys in the league to play against. I think our defence is in great shape," said Iginla.

Iginla and Regehr signed five-year contract extensions with the Flames on Wednesday, a sign that the team wants to keep the core group together.

Through the summer the Flames have also added veteran defencemen Adrian Aucoin, via a trade with Chicago, and Cory Sarich, through free agency. Earlier this week, the signed feisty forward Owen Nolan.

Not to mention the addition of a new head coach in Mike Keenan.

Each one of the players who has joined the team says the same thing: The Flames are on the verge of being a true contender.

"We have turned things around since I first joined the team in 1999," said Regehr. "We have a real chance to win here right now."

Up front, in the forward ranks, Iginla sees a more skilled group emerging.

"We upgraded the skill level with Tangs (Alex Tanguay) last year and Lombo (Mathew Lombardi) is a young player who is just getting better," said Iginla.

"I'm excited about it. I think we have a lot of good things going for us," said Iginla.

By signing a contract extension, Iginla opted out of becoming an unrestricted free agent next summer. There is no doubt he would have been a player in demand next July 1, coincidentally the day he will turn 31.

He likes the direction the team is headed. That, and the fact that he enjoys the city and passion of the Flames fans, made the decision to stay in Calgary easy.

"Some guys move in free agency and they might end up with a team that is rebuilding but here, there is a chance to win and that's what you want," said Iginla.

Regehr said the addition of Owen Nolan is one he welcomes.

"I have played against him a fair bit and I know he likes to go to the tough areas. He is a feisty guy who likes to battle. I am looking forward to having him on our team and not having to play against him," said Regehr.

He added that general manager Darryl Sutter is not wasting time when it comes to building the Flames for now and the future.

"I think a lot of people can learn from Darryl over the last couple fo years," said Regehr. "He doesn't like to go into a season with question marks."

Indeed, with core players like Iginla and Regehr potentially heading to unrestricted free agency next season, Sutter locked them up for the long term. Goalie Miikka Kiprusoff is in the same situation but the indications are that he, too, will get a contract extension, likely as early as this fall.

And, when Sutter figured defencemen Brad Stuart and Roman Hamrlik were going to free agency, he made a move to get Aucoin and then snatched Sarich off the free agent list.

"It's good for the fans, too," said Regehr. "They know the players are going to be there, especially a guy like Jarome Iginla, the type of player that doesn't come around that often."

Flames general manager Darrly Sutter said Calgary is becoming more than just a great place to play hockey for players.

And it isn't all about the dollar signs either. It's no secret, Calgary has some of the best hockey fans in the NHL, but it could also be one of the most sought after cities to play in.

"I think number one, it's a very good hockey club and has been for, including the lockout, four seasons, so that makes it an easier decision for players," said Sutter.

But beyond that, Sutter knows first hand what the city has to offer.

"I've lived here for four years and you'd be hard pressed to find a better place to live, whether you're a hockey player or not a hockey player," added Sutter.

Sutter is quite happy to be able to continue to build the Flames into a winner and the signings of Iginla and Regehr are a critical component in the build.

"When I came here I said the two most important players that we have in our organization are Robyn Regehr and Jarome Iginla and that's going back quite a few years," said Sutter. "And obviously I still feel that way."
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