SUN Hockey Pool

Stoking the fire

RANDY SPORTAK -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 8:14 AM ET

Flames fans have already waited more than a year to see the Western Conference champion banner raised to the Saddledome rafters.

Thanks to the schedule makers, they'll have to hold their horses an extra week for the celebration.

The long-awaited follow-up to Calgary's celebrated 2004 run to the Stanley Cup final will begin on the road against the Minnesota Wild Oct. 5.

At least we'll see early if this year's clampdown on obstruction is legit.

Because of the four-game road swing Calgary has to start the season, the home-opener will take place Oct. 13 when the Dallas Stars come calling at the Saddledome.

All 30 teams will play on opening night, the first time in the league's 88-year history there have been 15 games on the same date.

The theme for this year's schedule is rivalries. There will be eight instalments of the Battle of Alberta, with the first coming Oct. 15 at the Saddledome.

The Oilers also come to town to celebrate New Year's Eve.

Rest assured, there will be plenty of bad blood among Calgary's other Northwest Division rivals, too. Vancouver will meet the Flames for a pair of two-game series, one at the Saddledome and the other at GM Place, while a home-and-home set with Colorado is also on the docket.

Flames president Ken King is all for more games against their favourite nemeses.

"We really do like them," King said. "Nothing sells like a great rivalry.

"Our rivalries were pretty much the sole domain of the Battle of Alberta but the rivalry with Vancouver rivals, or even exceeds, ours with Edmonton."

The Flames TV schedule likely will be released next month and you can bet there will be more games on CBC as well as Sportsnet West.

Despite the unbalanced schedule, Montreal and Toronto fans in the Stampede City won't be left out in the cold. The Habs will come to town Jan. 19, while the Buds come calling Jan. 6. The only other Eastern Conference teams to visit are Ottawa, Buffalo and Boston.

Unfortunately, the Canadiens and Leafs will now only visit every three years.

"We'll have some disappointed fans, no question about that," King said. "Unfortunately, you're always going to have some disappointments, even when you make up a perfect schedule."

To see phenom Sidney Crosby, though, you'll have to head out of town to Pittsburgh. Calgary will face the five Atlantic Division squads, including Crosby and the Penguins, but all those games are on the road.

One drawback is Dany Heatley and the Atlanta Thrashers won't face off against the Flames, as is the case for the whole Southeast Division.

Throughout the year, the Flames will have six trips with at least four games each, including a seven-game trek in mid-March (Edmonton, Nashville, Minnesota twice, St. Louis, Columbus and Dallas) while the 'Dome is home to the world figure skating championships.

The Hockey Day in Canada triple-header takes place Jan. 7, with Ottawa in Montreal, Toronto in Edmonton and Calgary in Vancouver.

The annual Hall of Fame Game will pit the Tampa Bay Lightning against Toronto Nov. 5.

The Olympic break, for the 2006 Games in Turin, Italy, runs Feb. 12-27.

Regular season action concludes April 18, with the playoffs slated to begin April 21.


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