SUN Hockey Pool

Warrener takes scratch in full stride

RANDY SPORTAK -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 9:21 AM ET

LOS ANGELES -- The cheers reverberated throughout the arena as soon as the puck crossed the line.

Only problem for goal scorer Rhett Warrener was the ovation did not come from a packed house at the HP Pavilion during the Calgary Flames game against the San Jose Sharks.

Warrener's shot rippled the twine after all but a few of his Flames teammates were long gone following the morning skate. The cheers came from the likes of seldom-used forward Marcus Nilson, Wayne Primeau and the assistant coaches.

"That was a beauty, eh?" Warrener said of his bank shot into an open net from the far end of the rink. "I think I was the first star out there."

At least, he heard some cheers of late.

That night, Warrener was among the crew of healthy scratches -- which included Nilson and Primeau, yet again.

In an era of the salary cap, you're most likely to see youngsters or veteran journeymen as the healthy scratches.

The Flames find themselves in a unique situation in sitting a crew of proven vets, all of whom have contracts through next season. In fact, the four players who didn't play against the Sharks -- we'll count back-up goaltender Curtis Joseph since he rode the pine -- have a combined 2,792 regular-season games under their belts.

It's the drawback to having a veteran team with almost no rookies and a plethora of players on one-way contracts.

"If you look at it in the negative term, it's a downside," said Warrener. "For the guys not playing, it's a downside, but on the other side, it means there's depth and the team's strong.

"You want to play. Every guy sitting out is desperate to get back in and is working hard. He wants to be in the lineup."

However, that's just not possible for the Flames. For the past few weeks, they haven't had a player miss a game due to injury or illness.

Eventually, head coach Mike Keenan will re-insert one or more of them in the lineup. But for now, life for the Black Aces involves plenty of waiting.

And it makes for difficult calls for Keenan, who has to regularly sit players who possess a wealth of experience.

"It's tough, and I've talked to them," Keenan said. "I don't think it's harder, because they understand more than a youngster would. They've been around for a while, so they've seen it and lived it. Maybe for some, it's the first time and that's harder to grasp."

Rest assured, they understand, but don't expect any player -- especially a vet -- to be happy about watching. The age-old adage is true: Hockey players are paid to practise, but they play the games for free.

"It's tough. It's not something you like," said Warrener, who hadn't been a healthy scratch since his rookie season in Florida. "I don't think I've necessarily played out of the lineup, so you sit back and ponder. But you've got to stay positive and work hard because you know you'll eventually be playing again and want to be ready to go.

"I've been out so many games, I don't think I can try to do anything extra," said Nilson, scratched 23 of the last 27 outings. I've played quite a few games ,so I know what to do. It takes a few games to get back in the groove. Hopefully I'll get those games.

"You'll never be game-shape without playing in games, but you can be in good shape overall. I've been trying to stay in shape and be ready when you do get that chance.

"It's hard, but you've got no choice, right."


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