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  • Sunday, September 26, 1999

    Kid can play

    Young Russian proving he deserves to remain

    By GEORGE JOHNSON -- Calgary Sun
      EDMONTON -- Bill had his Phil.
     Last night at Skyreach, Phil Housley was reaching for the sky.
     Travis Brigley deflected a Housley powerplay point shot behind Bill Ranford at 15:15 of the third period, helping the Flames rally for a 5-4 exhibition win over the Oil.
     Housley had arranged Calgary's first three goals, then pounded a sharp-angle shot past a beleaguered Ranford -- back in Tampa Bay form -- to tie the game at 10:36 of the third period.
     At 35, Housley seemed poised to duplicate the stirring comeback of last season, his first in a second stint as a Flame.
     And from an established star to an up-and-coming one ...
     OK guys, come up with the scratch.
     Find the $1.025 million US.
     Keep the kid.
     Yeah, he's only 18. Sure he's green as a seasick landlubber on a schooner voyage through a squall. But if performance translates into employment, there's no way Oleg Saprykin goes back to junior.
     He hits. He competes. He's a dream of a skater.
     He deserves to stick.
     Last night, Saprykin was the best young Flame on display. Again. He made a superb pass, swerving into the corner and flinging the puck back to Andrei Nazarov in the slot for Calgary's second goal and assisted on Housley's game-winner.
     The kid's been a breath of fresh air around the rink, a perpetual smile on his face, ballcap on fashionably backwards. He's played with a number of linemates and rarely has his performance ebbed.
     "I thought he and Brigley were outstanding tonight. Olie just wouldn't give in. He never says 'no' and the nice thing is, we don't have to," coach Brian Sutter said about Saprykin
     "There's some people that have something inside of them that pushes them to excel and he's one of them."
     "He's making us talk about him, that's for sure," added general manager Al Coates.
     "Irrespective of what happens, he might just be the best player out of the draft right now.
     "The danger is, when the season starts in San Jose next Friday, the intensity level goes up X percent. In December, so much more. In January, more again.
     "So far he's been able to sustain his intensity. But can he when it really gets turned up? That's something we'll have to discuss. It's sure to be a lively discussion."
     There was good and bad come out of the Flames' next-to-last exhibition game. The good: Cory Stillman, so dormant for so long, finally scored his second goal of the pre-season and added an assist; Rene Corbet saw his first action since suffering a head injury early in the pre-season. The bad: Defenceman Derek Morris injured his right hand trying to cave in Alexander Selivanov's face, and was taken to hospital.
     "The X-rays were negative so it looks like nothing's broke," Morris said of his wounded mitt.
     "It's really swollen and sore though. If it had been a clean hit, no problem, but when a guy gets elbowed in the head like that, you've got no choice but to get involved. That kind of stuff is B.S."
     Meanwhile, the penalty killing, so good so far, was dented for three goals.
     Fred Brathwaite, the odds-on-favourite to cop the back-up goaltending spot, didn't exactly dazzle against his former team which might leave the door ever-so-slightly ajar for Tyler Moss.
     Brigley had a chance to tie the game at 3s shorthanded five and a half minutes into the third period but was stuffed on a breakaway by Ranford.
     He wouldn't be denied later, though.
     A scoreless, eventless first period was followed by a far more energetic second. Calgary's penalty killing, its strong suit the entire pre-season, wilted under the strain of an Oiler 5-on-3.
     Doug Weight wired a Tom Poti pass over Brathwaite's right shoulder at 4:24. Just 39 seconds later, and with Simpson returned to the ice, Niinimaa banked a long-range shot off the far post and in for a second powerplay goal.
     Jeff Shantz got the Flames back into it at 7:59, banking a shot off the inside of Ranford's right skate and in.
     Ryan Smyth of the Oilers and Calgary's Stillman traded third-period goals before Housley hit for the tying snipe.
     Among those contending for spots on the roster, coach Brian Sutter chose to sit out centres Daniel Tkaczuk and Pavel Torgaev, right winger Rico Fata and defencemen Lee Sorochan and Toni Lydman.
     Calgary concludes its exhibition season tonight (8 p.m. Mountain) at the Garage in Vancouver.
     QUICK HITS: Already the green-and-white street sign -- Wayne Gretzky Drive -- is up on the former Capilano Freeway approaching the left turn into Skyreach Centre. So infatuated by the upcoming Gretzky tribute game, a zealot from Finland bought a 21-game Oiler ticket pack just to assure him somewhere to sit for Friday's half-hour tribute. He plans to fly over, stay a week or so, sell most of the tickets,
     then return for another week later in the winter to use a couple more.

    CALGARY FLAMES



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