'Rhino' a desert creature

RANDY SPORTAK -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 7:43 AM ET

Steve Reinprecht has gone from a flickering Flame to a hot (Desert) Dog.

When Reinprecht was dealt from Calgary to the Phoenix Coyotes Feb. 1, his game was at an all-time low.

He was struggling to find his form in the Flames' defence-first system and he was struggling to find his confidence.

But when he returns to Saddledome ice for tonight's clash against his old team, Reinprecht does it as one of the NHL's hottest players.

"For whatever reason, it didn't work out," he said of his time in the Stampede City. "The first season, I wasn't healthy and this year I couldn't get in the flow.

"It was unfortunate because it's a fun place to play and a great bunch of guys."

A slick-skating, play-making centre, Reinprecht should have fit in perfectly with Calgary as a second-line centre.

Instead, he struggled to a disappointing 29 points in 52 contests.

Moreover, he often felt the wrath of GM/head coach Darryl Sutter.

Prior to the trade, Reinprecht was hardly having the time of his life.

"It's always fun but when you go through hard times, it's not as fun," said Reinprecht, who was dealt with Philippe Sauve for Mike Leclerc and Brian Boucher. "It's nice to be helping the team."

Which he has been doing quite nicely for the Coyotes. After a slow start with the Desert Dogs, Reinprecht has racked up 20 points in 21 games on a line with Shane Doan and Fredrik Sjostrom.

He was also named the NHL's offensive player of the week. That's what happens when the defensive shackles are taken off.

"It is more of a defensive system here and it works," Reinprecht said, refusing to slam his old boss. "In Phoenix, it's more of a flow game, more offensive, so there are more chances.

"It's helped my game. It's been a good fit and a lot of fun. I've got my confidence back and am trying to make plays playing my game. If I don't try to carry the puck and make plays, I'm not as effective as I want to be and that's what I'm trying to do more."

Reinprecht's success hasn't helped the Coyotes reach the playoffs -- they're still mathematically alive but are facing Super-7-type odds -- but it has given hope for the future. Near the trade deadline, he signed a three-year, $6-million US contract extension and believes the Coyotes will turn the corner next season.

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NOTHING LIKE A FRESH START

REINPRECHT'S 2005-06 STATS IN CALGARY AND PHOENIX

                                       

GP G A P +/- PIM PP SH GW GT Sts Sh%

Coyotes 21 11 9 20 1 4 4 1 2 0 46 23.9

Flames 52 10 19 29 10 24 5 0 1 0 72 13.9


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