Focus group checks in

STEVE MACFARLANE -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 9:45 AM ET

A divided locker-room can tear a team apart.

All it takes is one unhappy player to influence the mood of another, and the feeling of discontent can spread.

One of the common theories surrounding last season's disappointing finish stems from the idea guys like Jeff Friesen, Tony Amonte and Byron Ritchie were frustrated by their lack of ice time and didn't bother to hide their anger.

With a veteran team that now boasts 15 forwards and eight defencemen when healthy, Calgary Flames head coach Mike Keenan is going to have tough decisions to make every night.

Scratching Cory Sarich and ending his active ironman streak may not have been the most popular one, but the mood in the room isn't going to change. And by all accounts, it's been a positive one compared to a year ago.

"I think guys have been a little better about handling it this year than perhaps in the past," said defenceman Rhett Warrener, who took Sarich's place in the lineup Saturday after sitting out 10 of the previous dozen as a healthy scratch. "Just sitting out sucks, plain and simple. There's not one guy that's sat out a game this year that's been happy about it.

"I think guys have dealt with it the right way and stayed ready, because you see when guys come back in, they can contribute. That's when it's fun again, getting back in and actually contributing."

Warrener's contribution was a goal in the opening minutes of a 3-1 win over the Coyotes, and that could earn him another start tonight while others wait their turn.

"You've got to take the 'I' out of the whole equation. It's not about you personally. It's a team sport, and you want the team to win," said blueliner Anders Eriksson, who was out six of the last seven.

"I was part of a couple of Cups. I won one of them and was there for the other one. You have to be positive.

"You have to be trying to help the guys who are playing to keep their motivation up, to keep loose."

It's not always easy. A veteran-laden team might be more understanding, but also more accustomed to playing.

"It is tough. More tough mentally than physically," said Eriksson. "I'm here to play. I'm not here to sit on the bench. But the team is playing well. If we win, everybody wins."

Injuries up front are showing the importance of depth at this time of year. It's even more important in the playoffs, as the Flames discovered during their 2004 run when they used nine defenders.

"It's going to take all of the 15 and all of the eight, and both goalies, to get it done," said head coach Mike Keenan yesterday. "It takes the preparation of everyone -- whether you're playing intermittently, whether you're playing little minutes, whether you're playing a lot of minutes.

"It's an ongoing decision making process of the coaches to manage, and that's part of coaching."

Warrener struggled with injuries last season, but didn't have to deal with the idea of being a healthy scratch.

It's been a new experience for the 32-year-old.

"I was on the other side last year. It's a tough situation. I've never been through it before," he said. "It's easy to get down and lose your focus, but I think the guys that have been out have kind of helped each other. Motivated each other. Pushed each other."

Sounds like the definition of a team. Just hope it stays that way.


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