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HAVING A BALL!

Flames close out practice Monday with a little soccer-handball match, featuring their very own Ronaldo ... er, Rinaldo

by GEORGE JOHNSON @GJohnsonFlames / CalgaryFlames.com

He lacked the trademark jutting Adam's apple. 

That familiar wide feet-apart stance while hovering over the ball before sending a scything boomerang of a free kick hurtling past a helpless 'keeper.

No airport named in his honour, like the one for that other guy in Santz Cruz, Madeira, Portugal.

"Spelled differently, too,'' reminds defenceman Rasmus Andersson, a Real Madrid supporter from a way back.

"An 'i' instead of an 'o.'

"We were calling him Cristiano anyway."

In the closing street of an hour-plus Flames skate at the Scotiabank Saddledome on Monday, interim coach Geoff Ward had the boys shuck the sticks and engage in a bit of soccer-handball horseplay.

"Just having some fun. always a good way to end off,'' explained Ward. "They don't even know they're working hard but they're getting some work in. Working with their feet, which is important in hockey, too.

"This is the way it works - ball's in the air, you play handball. But you can only hold onto the ball for three seconds before you have to pass it.

"As soon as the ball hits the ice you're playing soccer. And the goalies can't hold onto the ball. They gotta play out."

Which is why it's handy to have your very own Ronaldo - global superstar of Serie A side Juventus and nationally for Portugal - on hand.

Uh, make that Rinaldo.

As in Zac. The all-energy, all-heart, muckraking Flames forward.

"That's a good name for soccer, for sure," concedes Czech Michael Frolik, then flashing a small smile. "They play a little differently, though.

"A lot of fun. I can't really remember the last time I saw a soccer ball on the ice. Something different. Saw a lot of smiles out there."

 

Video: Hockey is fun. And so is soccer. And so is handball.

 

A few of the other futbal-loving Europeans were only too happy to critique the pitch skills of their North American teammates.

"I thought Mange showed some pretty good skills,'' assessed Swedish D-man Oliver Kylington. "Gio had some nice back-heel passes. Mony, Johnny looked good together - like always.

"Fro had some good touches, being Czech.

"And the Swedes? We looked the best."

Since assuming control of the rudder, Ward has gone out of his way to lighten the tone at moments during practice. 

"Fun. Really fun,'' emphasizes Kylington. "I enjoyed it. Something like that is a good way to finish a practice. Everybody's laughing. It was actually hard, too, the ball sliding everywhere.

"Mixing things up a little bit that way is great for morale.

"We take hockey seriously. That's our job. But if you don't have fun at your job it's hard to perform at your best."

Some 415 goals separate the top-flight offensive outputs of Ronaldo and Rinaldo. No museum or footgear bearing the one guy's likeness or signature.

No matter how you spell it, though, R(i)naldo isn't complaining.

"Know what?'' confesses the heat-seeking-missile of a left-winger. "The only time I watch is soccer when Italy is in the World Cup.

"I remember seeing them lose a shootout when I was about six and bawling my eyes out. I was so young, my whole family was together and I was … heartbroken.

"I couldn't go flagging. Just so upset."

And the sobriquet teammates bestowed on him Monday?

"He's a good-looking guy,'' is the immediate response. "Everyone knows who he is. One of the greatest athletes on earth. Scores lot of goals. Makes a lot of money - more money on social media and Instagram actually than he does playing.

"So I'll take the nickname. No problem with Cristiano. None at all."

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