SUN Hockey Pool

Black cloud finally lifts

RANDY SPORTAK -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 12:23 PM ET

Fashionably late to training camp by a couple of days, Flames winger Darren McCarty said he's feeling better than ever.

The veteran right-winger, who was allowed to report yesterday for fitness testing in the morning and hit the ice for half a session, said he comes into this season without the black cloud that hovered around him in the past.

"My head's in the right place," he said after skating with his mates at the Max Bell Centre.

It was a year ago McCarty went through the inglorious departure from the Red Wings, bought out because of a contract too expensive for them to fit under the salary cap.

Signing a two-year, $1.6 million US deal with the Flames, he competed while coping with a bankruptcy process personally.

"Last year was a difficult year in a lot of ways," he said.

"We're professionals and have to learn how to separate it but we're human beings also and sometimes your personal stuff can drag into your game.

"I've done everything and have the support of the organization to do what I need to do to handle a lot of that personal stuff and I couldn't be happier standing here.

"The way I pay them back for their loyalty and support is on the ice and that's what I'm looking to do."

Married in late June, McCarty said most of all his battles are far enough behind him.

"In a lot of ways, yes," he said.

"A few things are tailing me, still hanging on, but are coming to an end. Definitely, my focus and -- I think -- more, my perspective is in the now.

"Mentally, I am in such a better place. There are things happening in my life I can't control and I'm not worrying about those things because they'll come to an end. And the things I can control, I've got a pretty good grasp on and know what I have to do.

"That's a step, a huge step, and I think it'll carry over, into my play and being the leader I can on this team."

It's a Flames team gearing up for what's hoped to be a championship season and looking to fully erase the disappointment of losing out in the first round of the playoffs to Anaheim.

He believes it's much the same to what he went though while part of the Red Wings teams that flamed out in the mid-'90s despite high hopes.

"This is a huge year. It's a very big year for us," he said.

"Last year, we made some huge strides and I think in the overall scheme of things we took a step forward. With the experience we gained, hopefully we can take two steps more."

What part McCarty will play in that remains to be seen. The Flames are deeper on the wings this season and have a handful of youngsters pushing for spots on the roster.

Where he fits on the depth chart will shake out but McCarty will be in tough to play the number of minutes he saw last season.

"That's always the way it is," he said. "We're all part of a bigger goal, winning. As an older guy, it will push you. You have to push the younger guys, too.

"I'm looking to contribute more."


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