SUN Hockey Pool

Flames have fresh hopes

ERIC FRANCIS -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 9:03 AM ET

And so, after eight relatively uninspiring pre-season efforts, the Calgary Flames open the regular season Thursday the same way they went into the playoffs last year: With no momentum.

With just one pre-season win, the Flames have now won just three of their last 18 outings including the playoffs and their final four regular-season games last year.

One win came via the shootout, and the other two were dumb luck given the heroics of Miikka Kiprusoff last spring against the Detroit Red Wings.

Combine the mounting losses with Mike Keenan's ranting last week about the team's poor work ethic and some fear the Flames are due for a face plant this season.

Truth is, little should be read into the pre-season, and what happened last year is irrelevant given the changing culture of a franchise now headed up by one of the league's most demanding task-masters.

That said, another one of their trademarked slow starts could prove to be potentially fatal for the Flames in a conference that saw huge improvements in Colorado and St. Louis, among other NHL cities.

How they fare from here makes the Flames perhaps the most intriguing team in the league. as fans and casual observers alike are anxious to see if Keenan has any magic left.

Now, more notes, quotes and anecdotes from a sports world justifiably convinced the biggest feast this Thanksgiving will be at McMahon Stadium where the Saskatchewan Roughriders will pick apart what's left of the Stamps' season Monday.

AROUND THE HORN

The most interesting take on Steve Downie's hit on Dean McAmmond goes to Keenan: "I don't support what Downie did at all -- he left his feet. At the same time, McAmmond was coming around the net admiring his pass. Players have to understand they have a responsibility to themselves to know the game and play the game accordingly. It's a physical game." ... Tell me if any of this sounds eerily similar: "He'll get what is coming to him. He will do it to the wrong guy, and somebody will put him out of hockey. He will get what's coming to him next time we play him." Those are words of Ottawa Senators tough-guy Brian McGrattan aimed at Downie. They sound a lot like things said publicly by Brad May before Todd Bertuzzi put Steve Moore out of hockey. Did McGrattan not learn anything from the ugliest incident? ... Just wondering: How long until we see Woody Austin doing Gore-Tex commercials?

PARTING GIFTS

Personal highlight from baseball -- the San Diego Padres' Milton Bradley tearing his anterior cruciate ligament arguing with an umpire ... Hard to believe, but the only team the New Orleans Saints have a winning record against is the Tampa Bay Buccaneers ... It could take years to settle the debate over who did the most damage to their franchise: Michael Vick or Ricky Williams. Discuss ... Yes, the Jordan Parise vying to be Martin Brodeur's backup is Zach's brother. The brother tandem won the Mac's Midget tourney together with Shattuck/St. Mary's in 2001.


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