SUN Hockey Pool

Road warriors anxious

STEVE MacFARLANE -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 9:07 AM ET

If there's any value in pre-season stats, the Calgary Flames' season-opening road trip would seem like a bad omen.

The team was winless away from home during the exhibition schedule.

But GM/head coach Darryl Sutter doesn't care whether his team starts on the road or at home.

"I think the preference right now is just to start," joked Sutter yesterday, showing an eagerness to get things rolling after a lengthy absence from meaningful hockey.

The Flames begin their season tomorrow night in Minnesota, before continuing on to Columbus Friday, Detroit Sunday and Colorado Monday night.

Defenceman Andrew Ference is looking at the nearly weeklong road swing as an opportunity to bond with his teammates.

"You can look at it a couple of ways," he said. "A good old four-game road trip's not bad for the boys just to get camaraderie. You're spending 24 hours a day together and that's kind of nice."

Nobody seems to be putting any extra pressure on themselves, despite all the positive buzz surrounding the team these days, but Ference admits getting off to a good start is important.

"Especially at the start of a season, just to get the ball rolling," he said. "Get a good feeling in the locker-room. When you're winning, it's a different atmosphere. The start of a season's important for that matter."

Flames captain Jarome Iginla also wants to get off on the right foot, for more than one reason.

"It's important for every team. You get momentum going," said Iginla, adding a hot start will fuel the positive talk that has been building around the Stampede City since the Flames' 2004 playoff run.

"Last time we played, we were a good road club. But whether it's home or the road, it's great to get the season started."

Sutter, though, is focused on the long haul.

"I look at it like we play Minnesota on Wednesday. I don't get into that long-term (speculation)," said Sutter. "It's a marathon and the playoff marathon starts on Wednesday. That's the way I look at it."

OFF TO THE FARM: The Flames pared their roster down to 22 players yesterday, sending six more to the Omaha Knights.

There were no surprises as forwards Eric Nystrom, Lynn Loyns and Brantt Myhres, defencemen Richie Regehr and Mark Giordano, and goaltender Brent Krahn were assigned to the AHL affiliate.

Krahn, a first-round pick in 2000, battled hard for the backup spot behind netminder Miikka Kiprusoff but will settle for a starting job with the Knights knowing the Flames have confidence in him should his services be required.

Nystrom, who put his speed and playmaking ability on display throughout the pre-season, had a strong training camp and is a favourite to rejoin the big club should the injury bug bite.

Loyns, a versatile forward, is back at 100% after three heart surgeries in less than a year. He scored 15 points in 77 games with the AHL Lowell Lock Monsters last season.

Myhres made one appearance against Edmonton during camp but didn't return after a scrap with Oilers heavyweight Georges Laraque in the opening minutes.

Regehr and Giordano were impressive at times throughout the exhibition schedule and are two solid prospects.


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