Feel the burn

RANDY SPORTAK -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 11:42 AM ET

Twice Calgary Flames forward Tony Amonte has reached the conference finals, only to come up shy of his dream of a Stanley Cup.

But 1994 was, perhaps, the most painful memory of how close he has come to Stanley without actually striking glory.

Amonte was a member of the New York Rangers but was traded to the Chicago Blackhawks at the NHL's trade deadline for Stephane Matteau and Brian Noonan.

He watched as Mark Messier led the Blueshirts to hockey's holy grail for the first time since 1940.

Frustration from that experience, though, is long gone.

"You win a Stanley Cup, you want to be a part of it and I probably wouldn't have been that big a part of it if I stayed there," Amonte said after yesterday's Flames practice. "I wasn't playing that much and didn't really know how to deal with a coach like that (Mike Keenan) at the time, being 23 years old."

Amonte, now closing in on his 1,100th game and with more than 400 goals to his name, has had more heartbreak, too.

He saw his 2004 playoff hopes dashed in the seventh game of the Eastern Conference final when Tampa Bay ousted the Philadelphia Flyers. And in the spring of 1995, he was part of a Chicago squad that lost in five games to Detroit -- three in overtime -- in the West final.

Amonte, who will turn 36 this summer, is running short on chances to realize his dream of a Stanley Cup. So while he used the Olympic break to recharge in the Mexico sun, he also came away with a renewed desire for the NHL's ultimate prize.

"That's why everybody wants to come up here to play for the Calgary Flames, they've got a chance to win the Stanley Cup," Amonte said. "It's a great organization, a great team.

"It's hard to look forward to the playoffs right now because March will be a tough month for us, a tough, trying month, so our focus coming out of the break will be to maintain our first-place position and go from there. You get caught up in thinking about the playoffs, that's when you get burned. Instead of finishing first (in the division), you'll end up fifth or sixth and without home-ice advantage."

As the Flames prepare for their final 25 regular season games -- beginning with Tuesday's date against the Vancouver Canucks -- Amonte is a crucial part of the team's success, being asked to guide youngsters such as linemates Chuck Kobasew and Matthew Lombardi. Amonte called skating alongside the pair rejuvenating.

"They have a lot of energy and are upbeat every shift. It's great to play with kids like that," Amonte said. "Those two are the fastest skaters on the team and when they get rolling are hard to stop.

"When Darryl (Sutter) asked me a few weeks ago when I was playing with them if I wanted to stay with them, right away, I said absolutely. They seem to be the line that always sparks the team."

Although he was disappointed to have been left off the U.S. Olympic team, Amonte said he takes no satisfaction in the fact they finished eighth without him.

"It brought back bad memories of Nagano (in 1998)," Amonte said. "It was almost the same deal, getting over there and never getting your legs under you and struggling from the get-go and that's the way it was for them in Torino. I can sympathize with them and be disappointed for them."

He was thrilled to be in Cabo San Lucas with several teammates, though, when the mercury here fell to bone-chilling levels.

"I looked on the Internet every day," he grinned. "When I saw it was minus-30, I was taking off my shirt and getting into the pool. I knew I'd be back here soon enough."


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