CALGARY (CP) - Calgary Flames captain Jarome Iginla organized a short trip to the mountains last weekend for all his teammates to escape the limelight of the rink for some golf, fishing and simple bonding time.
With nearly one-third of the Flames new to the NHL club, Iginla saw it as a way to get to know each other before the season and its 82-game grind begins. But by Thursday, the team was back to business for the start of training camp and the dreaded fitness testing - all under the watchful eye of new head coach and legendary taskmaster, Mike Keenan.
Keenan said the trip was a good start for the club.
"They recognize that they have to come together quickly, and it shows that they care for their team and that they have some responsibility in determining how this is all going to get started."
Forward Craig Conroy says with the season starting so quickly, the team felt they needed to come together.
"We've got a great group of guys and it's going to be a lot of fun. Now we we've got to translate that into winning hockey games."
With the first pre-season tilt this Sunday against the Florida Panthers, the Flames will soon get their chance to show if they belong back to the post season for the fourth year in a row.
And they'll need to prove if they're a better team than last year's edition that was knocked out in the first round by the Detroit Red Wings.
But on Thursday, most of the players expected to make the NHL team were off the ice and in the weight room for mandatory fitness testing.
Keenan said the testing was key in determining where everyone stands and what the players have done to prepare themselves for the long, punishing season ahead.
"It's a very important day because if they haven't done the work they need to, it's hard to catch up," he said. "And I think just by looking at them at this point, they've done a lot of work."
Keenan, who was hired in June to replace rookie head coach Jim Playfair, is known throughout the NHL for having little patience for underperforming players.
And while key decisions on players is ultimately General Manager Darryl Sutter's responsibility, Keenan said personnel changes will be determined by how well the Flames play and if they match up to high expectations.
Iginla admitted that most of the Flames appeared to be have taken their off-season training a little more seriously this year, particularly after Keenan was named head coach in June.
"I think a lot of us saw some comments a while back when (Keenan) said if you weren't in shape you were going to be on the bike a lot," he said.
"Most of us probably look a little thinner than usual."
Along with Keenan, one of the most recognizable off-season signings for the Flames was Owen Nolan, who's played for five different teams during his 15 years in the league, including Phoenix and Toronto.
His most productive seasons came when he played for San Jose where he was coached by Darryl Sutter.
Nolan said Thursday he expected Keenan's style of coaching to be very similar to Sutter's.
"I've known Darryl for a long time, respect him a lot and loved him as a coach, so I don't see there's going to be a big difference."
During the off-season, the Flames also took care of several of their key, franchise players when they signed both Iginla and defenceman Robin Regehr to five-year contract extensions.
The last piece of the puzzle is goalie Miikka Kiprusoff who won the league's Vezina Trophy as top goaltender during the 2005-06 season.
Kiprusoff, who stands to become an unrestricted free agent at the end of this season, said Thursday that his agent is currently negotiating with the Flames and he hopes to have a contract before the season begins.
"It's my first option for sure - I'd love to be here."