CALGARY - Jarome Iginla's first skate of training camp lasted less than half an hour. The Calgary Flames captain left the ice after feeling his back spasm and did not return Saturday.
"Unfortunately, after I'd started a little bit, I had a little bit of a spasm there," Iginla said later. "It's nothing I haven't had before. I've had them during the season at different times.
"I thought it was better to be safe than keep aggravating it."
At 34, Iginla is more cautious about aches and pains than he once was.
"When you're younger, you'd push through it a little bit and I'd push and you learn it probably causes more problems and lasts longer," he said.
Iginla, Calgary's captain since the 2003-04 season, is the franchise player, so even a minor injury long before the regular season starts creates ripples of concern in Flames Nation.
The six-foot-one, 204-pound right-winger is the definition of hockey's power forward. Iginla uses his strength and power to break through checks and create space for his considerable playmaking and scoring skills. He's the Flames all-time leading scorer and one of just 10 NHL players to score 30 goals or more 10 consecutive seasons.
His off-season fitness and training goals have changed over the 15 years he's prepared for training camps. When it became clear after the lockout of 2004-05 the game required faster skaters, Iginla dropped bulk to get lighter and quicker.
Now, with the miles of 1,106 career games on him, Iginla didn't make dramatic changes in the off-season and concentrated on smaller goals.
"Over the summer, most of my training was more geared towards skating and puck skills, just to keep trying to improve in those areas and be a more efficient skater, not really so much to be necessarily bigger or stronger," he explained. "Also to try to use a little bit of camp and work on being ready to go when the games start as opposed to necessarily the first day of training camp.
"I feel great. It sounds kind of funny when you skate the first day and don't finish it, but I do."
The Edmonton native says he doesn't have trouble getting motivated for training camp, even though this is his 15th with the same NHL team. Before his back forced him off the ice, however, Iginla started daydreaming while watching coaches explain a drill on the rinkside whiteboard.
"He actually asked me what we had to do in the drill," rookie left-winger Sven Baertschi said, looking pleased.
"I don't know where my mind went," Iginla said with a grin. "Then it was like 'OK, go.' I usually am a little rusty, but I definitely had no clue and if he didn't help me out, it would have been a re-do."
This is an important year for the Flames captain as he tries to lead his team back to the playoffs after a two-year absence. It's become predictable that when the Flames struggle, the trade-Iginla talk and rumours start to circulate.
Iginla is entering the fourth season of his five-year, US$35-million contract that contains a no-movement clause. Iginla will ultimately decide if he remains a Flame for the remainder of his contract.
He's optimistic, as every NHL player is on the first day of training camp, about his team's chances in 2011-12. Calgary fell three points short of the playoffs last season despite a 25-11-9 record after Dec. 28.
Calgary couldn't figure out what kind of team they were for the first three months of the season until they realized a team could play an aggressive, smart defence and still score goals. They also improved special teams that ranked in the bottom third of the league in the early weeks of the season.
Iginla believes the re-signing of linemates Alex Tanguay and Brendan Morrison, winger Curtis Glencross and defenceman Anton Babchuk in the summer gives the Flames the continuity they need to pick up where they left off.
"We're going to fine-tune some things and go as opposed to re-learn," he said.
Meanwhile, defenceman Cory Sarich and Morrison skated Saturday wearing yellow jerseys meaning no-contact. Morrison had off-season knee surgery and Sarich spent the summer treating a nagging pelvic injury from last season.
Calgary returned goaltender Laurent Brossoit (Edmonton) and defencemen Dallas Ehrhardt (Moose Jaw), Reid Jackson (Lethbridge), Peter Kosterman (Calgary), Tyler Wotherspoon (Portland) to their respective junior teams Saturday and released goaltender Andrew Engelage.
Calgary's first pre-season game Tuesday is a split-squad matchup with the Vancouver Canucks. The Flames open the regular season Oct. 8 versus Pittsburgh.