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Happy Higgins

by Mike Board / Calgary Flames

It has been one hectic time these past few days for the Calgary Flames.

There are officially six new players on the roster as the result of two trades, a whole new set of line combinations and, of course, expectations from Flames fans.

Four of the new players, Ian White, Niklas Hagman, Jamal Mayers and Matt Stajan have already dressed for a game, having come over from Toronto on Blockbuster Sunday as the Flames dealt Dion Phaneuf, Freddie Sjostrom and Keith Aulie to the Maple Leafs. Following their debut in Monday's 3-0 loss to Philadelphia, Flames general manager Darryl Sutter made another trade, acquiring forwards Chris Higgins and Ales Kotalik from the New York Rangers in exchange for forwards Olli Jokinen and Brandon Prust.

Higgins arrived in time for practice on Tuesday while Kotalik had his flight cancelled and was not able to make practice. Both are expected to be in the Flames line-up on Wednesday when the Flames host Carolina. Kotalik was expected to arrive late Tuesday.

The two Rangers appear to be headed to the second line as Higgins skated with Daymond Langkow. Brian McGrattan and Jamie Lundmark stepped in for line rushes but noticeably absent from that line was Rene Bourque, leaving many to believe that Kotalik will play the right side on that line, at least to get things started. Bourque, meanwhile, was on the Three-B line with Mikael Backlund and Dustin Boyd. The top line featured newcomers Hagman and Stajan with Jarome Iginla, a combination that was tested during parts of Monday's game against Philadelphia. Eric Nystrom, Curtis Glencross and Jamal Mayers made up the checking line.

"Right now it is about winning games to be honest. Whatever I can do to help the team," said Higgins. "Wherever they need me I will be ready to fill in. I'm learning things on the fly. I was still meeting guys on the ice because I just got here before practice started."

Higgins had three 20-plus goal seasons in Montreal but this season, playing in his home state for the Rangers, hasn't been as productive. Maybe returning to Canada will get the juices flowing again.

"Playing in Canada at this time of year is fun. The fans are really into it. Every play gets magnified out there. I am going to enjoy being back in Canada," he said.

Nystrom, who grew up playing hockey with Higgins figures he is a nice fit for the Flames.

"I think he is excited. This is a great place to play, there is no doubt about it. We haven't been playing as good as we should be but this is a team that expects to win. He is the type of addition that can help this team. He's got unbelievable skill. He's fast and he plays a tenacious game. He is going to help us a lot," said Nystrom, who also played in the World Junior Championships with Higgins.

As a teammate of Kotalik's, Higgins was able to shed some light on what fans can expect from the winger from the Czech Republic.

"The thing you notice about him right away is how heavy his shot is and how quickly he gets it away. Hopefully he can find some ice and be able to get it off. He's a good guy off the ice. I get along with him well. I think he will fit in on the team."

Head coach Brent Sutter said he saw Kotalik when he was playing in Buffalo and putting up some offence and liked what he saw.

"It's letting him come in here and play his game," said Sutter. "I know in Buffalo he was a very good, very effective player."

Higgins was asked if it felt a little like training camp during the Flames makeover.

"With all the new faces it might seem a little like training camp. Hopefully we find some chemistry. We've got to find it quick. There's no time to learn abut each other."

 ICING: Higgins wil wear No. 21 while Kotalik will wear No. 26...The Flames host Carolina Wednesday at 7 p.m. at the 'Dome before going on a three-game road trip...Head coach Brent Sutter is looking for much more out of Wednesday's game. "We lacked work ethic, intensity and emotion. We can't accept that."


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