SUN Hockey Pool

ALI line packs punch

Fan favourite Jarome Iginla can't contain his excitement to be back on the ice yesterday at the Don...

Fan favourite Jarome Iginla can't contain his excitement to be back on the ice yesterday at the Don Hartman Sports Complex, site of the Flames training camp. (Calgary Sun/Al Charest)

ERIC FRANCIS -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 8:56 AM ET

Dozens swarmed him as he arrived at the rink and hundreds lined the glass as his club practised.

But while the tremendous showing of fan support at the Don Hartman Sports Complex yesterday had Jarome Iginla pumped up before he even started his first day of camp, the numbers he was most impressed by were found on the dressing room wall.

The line combinations. At the top of the dryboard: 10-22-12.

For those following along at home without a program, Darryl Sutter's opening combo paired newcomers Tony Amonte and Daymond Langkow with the Flames captain.

Sliding a slick playmaker in between two proven snipers, dare we call it the ALI Line for the obvious punch it packs?

"I was looking forward to a chance to play with them because they're skilled players who work hard and will have success," said Iginla, whose club opened the season with a spirited, 90-minute skate for the veterans yesterday.

"You have an idea who you might play with but I was guessing as to who it would be. There wouldn't have been disappointment on my face whoever I was with."

Of course, anyone who knows Sutter's approach to the game realizes the shell game of line combos can often change from practice to practice or shift to shift.

However, that hasn't stopped an entire city of frothing Flames fans -- as well as Iginla himself --from speculating who would, or should, play with whom.

"I wondered how it was going to be and who I was going to be with but also all the other line combinations -- it's pretty fun as a player to see," said Iginla, who likened the viewing of opening-day line combos to Christmas morning. "To me, it's a lot deeper team than we've had since I've been here. It's more talent, all the way through our defence. It's well rounded, not just talent and speed but also great checkers who aren't fun to play against and tough guys. There are some pretty cool combinations."

As they danced across the ice in trios, the second line has Steve Reinprecht centring Chuck Kobasew and Chris Simon -- another potent line capable of scoring in bunches.

A fourth line full of grit and flash has Matt Lombardi in between Jason Wiemer and Darren McCarty, while the checking unit of Stephane Yelle, Shean Donovan and Marcus Nilson that fared so well in the 2004 playoffs stayed intact.

"I think there's one player at forward who has a spot sewn up -- our first line right winger is Jarome Iginla. After that, everybody is interchangeable," said Donovan, who has spent the last three weeks skating at Father David Bauer Arena.

"Your second or third line centre is always going to be Yelle and after that it's a free-for-all. You could have (Reinprecht) on the wing, Nilson at centre."

The depth and versatility of this year's crew not only makes for endless line combinations but is also a big part of the reason the Flames are now being mentioned amongst Stanley Cup favourites.

You can sense it all over the city and you could see it in the Northeast rink yesterday where Iginla had to sign his way through a swath of fans as he entered the building.

"I didn't expect that on a school day," laughed Iginla. "You look up at the crowds and along the glass and it was pretty cool to see -- and we weren't even at the Saddledome. It's great to see the fans back and kick it off with well-wishes. It makes it more enjoyable."

With good reason.

LINING UP

Amonte-Langkow-Iginla

Simon-Reinprecht-Kobasew

Donovan-Yelle-Nilson

Wiemer-Lombardi-McCarty

Myhres/Loyns-Ritchie-MacDonald


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