SUN Hockey Pool

Flames wary of hot Habs

STEVE MACFARLANE -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 9:11 AM ET

Don't mistake the Montreal Canadiens for a team in turmoil.

The Calgary Flames certainly aren't taking their next opponent for granted.

The Flames kick off a brief two-game homestand tonight against the Canadiens, who fired head coach Claude Julien Saturday after winning just seven in 25 games.

With GM Bob Gainey taking control and next year's head coach Guy Carbonneau on the bench beside him, the slump already seems to be over.

"They won two in a row," said Flames captain Jarome Iginla this week. "They beat Dallas (Monday) and Dallas is playing well."

Veteran Tony Amonte also sees tonight's game as a challenge for the Flames with Gainey in charge.

"Looks like he's really shaking things up there," said Amonte. "Bob Gainey knows a lot about the game. He's a champion. He's got those guys playing hard now. It's going to definitely be a big challenge."

HURTIN' HAMMER: Defenceman Roman Hamrlik returned from a sprained knee in New York last week only to re-injure himself against the Rangers.

He missed games against the Islanders and Wild but is inching his way back toward 100%, skating hard with teammates this week.

"He tweaked it a little bit his first game back," said Flames assistant coach Rich Preston yesterday. "The good news is he's getting better, it's just a day-to-day thing. He's really close."

Hamrlik says he might try to get into some contact situations before returning to the lineup but will be a game-time decision tonight.

"I think I'm getting close," said Hamrlik. "Before the Rangers game I felt 100 percent. So far I've had good practices with the team but I (haven't had) any contact. That's a big difference. It's going to be a day-to-day decision."

BLAST FROM THE PAST: Rearguard Robyn Regehr has fond memories of Al MacNeil, Calgary's first NHL coach who was an integral part of the Flames for 25 years.

MacNeil will be celebrated by the Flames tonight before the opening faceoff.

"He's just a guy that has an absolute passion for hockey. He loved to be around the rink and around the guys," said Regehr. "After practices all the time he'd be out there with his skates that looked like they belonged in a museum instead of out on the ice. He would always challenge, mostly the defenceman, to a slapshot competition from the blueline: Who could hit the crossbar. He always thought that he still had the best slapshot.

"I don't think I ever saw him actually win one," Regehr continued while laughing, "but he still thought he had the best one."

Regehr is one of a few remaining Flames that experienced MacNeil as a coach for 11 games in December, 2002.

"He was talking about the Colorado game that year, his first game behind the bench," said Regehr. "He was mentioning to the reporters that we had to be ready to play the Colorado Rockies tonight. We had to mention to him it was the Colorado Avalanche and give him a little bit of ribbing about that."


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