SUN Hockey Pool

Quick break away

STEVE MACFARLANE -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 9:12 AM ET

With NHL salaries upwards of a half-million a season on average, players have the luxury of spoiling their loved ones at this time of year.

Often, though, the best present they can give is their presence.

"Christmas is all about family, friends getting together," said Calgary Flames defenceman Robyn Regehr before their Boxing Day matchup against the Vancouver Canucks last night. "Making sure you stay in touch with the people you care about."

Their time is precious, as valuable as any new vehicle, all-inclusive tropical vacation or top-of-the-line technical gadget. Especially when you consider just how brief a break the Flames had between arriving at the airstrip in Calgary in the early morning hours of Christmas Eve after a lengthy road trip and popping back into game mode before last night's battle.

They haven't had time to discuss what they found under their trees.

"I don't know what anybody got," said Andrew Ference. "Everybody was just talking about how short it was."

But while the teammates admitted it flew by, you won't hear them complain.

"That's part of hockey," said Jarome Iginla. "Football plays on the 25th ... it's part of it. We have short breaks."

Iginla, an Edmonton product, is one of the lucky Flames who have family living nearby.

So does star sophomore Dion Phaneuf -- also from the provincial capital -- who said he received many "nice gifts" but "the best part was spending time with the family."

Ference was also able to get a little time in with his family.

"The first half of (Christmas Day) is great, opening up presents and whatnot, but the second half of the day is almost just kind of getting yourself ready for (the Boxing Day game)," said Ference, who drove out to Canmore with his wife and daughter to be with his folks.

His best gift awaited him just a few hours after returning home from the pre-Christmas road trip when he awoke to the sight of one-year-old daughter Ava.

New father Jamie Lundmark thoroughly enjoyed his son's first Christmas.

"He's still pretty young, he's five months old, but it was good to have him around open presents and relax for two days," said the 25-year-old Edmontonian. "My wife went back home to Pennsylvania for the 10 days I was gone. Some of my family is coming up today just for a little bit and I'll see them when I get back from Vancouver."

Regehr and Rhett Warrener are Saskatchewan boys but the tight schedule made it tough for them to spend quality time back home. .

Warrener and his wife couldn't do the traditional turkey dinner with the family but managed a last-minute morning meeting.

"I went for breakfast," said Warrener. "Flew over Christmas morning and flew back. We were only there for three hours just to say hi. We weren't planning on going, it was last minute."

For Easterners like Tony Amonte, it's nearly impossible to get back to their roots during the season. But the veteran is happy to have the extra hours away from the rink to spend with his wife and kids.

"That's it, wife and kids. Family's all out east. It's been that way for a while in the NHL, especially when I started having kids," Amonte said. "It's tough to get away and get home."


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