SUN Hockey Pool

Sneak peek worth the wait

RANDY SPORTAK -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 9:47 AM ET

Embers, smoldering nearly 16 months, were finally fueled.

Sure the inferno won't be full blast until next month's home opener but the long wait to salute most of the hockey heroes who sent the Stampede City into a frenzy in the spring of '04 finally ended for Flames faithful last night at the Saddledome.

That it was pre-season didn't dampen spirits a whole lot for the announced gathering of 17,439, most clad in red and willing to cheer "Go Flames Go!" with the Chicago Blackhawks in town almost an afterthought.

Flames goalie Miikka Kiprusoff wasn't surprised by the warm welcome.

"Pretty much sold out and a pretty decent game. Nothing wrong with that," Kiprusoff said after backstopping the club to a 4-2 win. "It's fun to be back here and play. They didn't surprise me, I remember a couple of years ago."

It was academic Jarome Iginla and newcomers pegged to be on his line, Daymond Langkow and Tony Amonte, were watching the action instead of taking part.

After all, it was a chance to finally see first-hand Kiprusoff and many others who'll be looked to for that one last victory that will earn a Stanley Cup crown.

Certainly those donning the Flaming C gave those on hand enough of a tease to make them believe a season to remember is just around the corner.

There was Kiprusoff, the goaltender who went from virtual unknown to star status less than two years ago, handling almost every puck sent towards him with that cool-as-a-cucumber demeanour.

There was the defence corps, with only Rhett Warrener among the top seven not dressed, showing why it's considered one of the NHL's best.

And then there was offence giving enough to earn Calgary's first win in three chances during the exhibition season.

Leading the way with a pair of goals was Byron Ritchie, not expected to be an offensive force but happy to oblige.

"I'd love to chip in offence, I used to be a really offensive player and hopefully I can get some of that back in my game," said the centre who signed as a free agent two summers ago. "It definitely helps to get a goal in the first period, settle the nerves but I still made a couple of mistakes I wasn't really happy with and want to make a few smarter plays with the puck."

Robyn Regehr and Steve Reinprecht also scored for the hosts, while Duncan Keith and Cam Barker replied for Chicago.

It may be just the pre-season but Flames GM/head coach Darryl Sutter is already in mid-season form, ensuring nobody on his team has reason to become complacent.

"We've got some guys who have to play a lot of games next week to get their game in order," Sutter said. "Our bigger players like Si (Chris Simon) and Darren (McCarty) were really good but some of the skilled players are going to have to make the adjustment to understanding how hard they have to play.

"The rules aren't going to benefit them if they don't."


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