SUN Hockey Pool

Tough roadie takes toll

STEVE MACFARLANE - Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 10:16 AM ET

Last week's road trip was tough on the players in more ways than one.

Going 1-3-1 against their Pacific Division opponents on the lengthy tour was hard to digest mentally for the Calgary Flames. Every game was decided in the final few minutes but the team could only salvage three points out of a possible 10.

The only thing worse than the mental grind, though, was the physical one.

The Flames dropped their opening game in Dallas 2-1 and lost the services of gritty forward Darren McCarty, whose head rattled off the glass during a hit from Stars d-man John Erskine.

More than a week later, McCarty is still sidelined.

He skated yesterday along with injured defenceman Robyn Regehr and assistant coach Jim Playfair and is hoping to play tomorrow night when the Flames take on the Minnesota Wild to kick off a four-game homestand.

"I feel good," said McCarty afterward. "I was hoping to play (Saturday in San Jose) but it was, I guess, a bigger picture scheme of things sort of thing. In the beginning of the year, I respect that.

"I'm just trying to do as much as I can to make sure that I'm ready to go Tuesday and hopefully I get clearance to play."

While he's listed on the injury report as having a neck condition, it's believed he suffered his first concussion since 1993. Headaches, though, are no longer bothering McCarty.

"They're gone. I feel better," he said. "I've got the neck injury, the whiplash thing still, but it's getting better. I feel good on the ice. Hopefully everything responds well."

Rugged defenceman Rhett Warrener was also blasted into the boards during that game against the Stars before he skated to the bench in obvious pain, his arm dangling at his side. His shoulder was wrapped tightly underneath a mountain of ice after the game, leaving observers to wonder how serious the injury was.

That wasn't the last time Warrener took one for the team during the trip.

Blocked shots in games against the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim and Phoenix Coyotes caused him some grief, too.

A puck off the forearm sent him racing toward the bench when the whistle blew, shaking his arm to get feeling back after it "went a little numb."

One night earlier in Anaheim, he blocked a shot with his leg and is likely still feeling the effects of that self sacrifice.

He played through the pain, though, and was recently singled out by Flames GM/head coach for his resilience -- something Sutter said should be taken to heart by others on his team and around the league.

Warrener considers it all in a day's work.

"Well, that's your job," he said, laughing off the praise. "There's always bumps and bruises and everyone goes through those stretches of stuff. Unless it's something serious, you go out there and give it your all."

Sometimes that means accepting bruises on top of bruises when it comes to blocking shots.

"Hopefully that means you're involved in the game at least," Warrener joked. "I think the defence are a little more exposed this year than they have been in the past which makes it maybe a little tougher. Forwards can take advantage of that. But we'll learn how to play through it."

Another grinder who went down during the Western swing was Chris Simon, who missed the finale in San Jose and is now day-to-day with a torso muscle strain.

Simon says he suffered the injury during a hit late in the game against the Coyotes but didn't think much of it at the time.

It wasn't until the next morning before the Flames' practice he realized it was more serious.

The good news for the banged-up defending Western Conference champs -- and there are many more suffering from aches and pains caused by pucks and bodychecks -- is 10 of their next 12 games are in the friendly confines of the Saddledome.


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