Coach Keen on fit Flames

STEVE MACFARLANE, Sun Media

, Last Updated: 9:14 AM ET

Mike Keenan isn't an easy man to impress.

So, when he praised his players yesterday as being the fittest team he's ever coached in the NHL, the statement carried some serious clout.

"I'm very happy. It's the highest levels that I've seen in my NHL experience, as far as a team average is concerned," Keenan said yesterday. "And, individually, the number of players in the elite is impressive and significant.

"It's a tribute to their preparation."

Right down to the training staff, it seems every member of the Calgary Flames is trimmer, fitter or faster.

Across the board, the players are improving their scores in the annual fitness testing, and that dedication has impressed Keenan.

Earning points in four basic categories -- strength, power and muscular endurance, flexibility, anaerobic and aerobic fitness -- the players are given an overall score.

Timed bench presses, curl-ups and push-ups, standing long and vertical jumps, trunk flexion testing, the 30-second Wingate bike test, and longer VO2 Max ride all factor into the results, and Keenan was blown away by them all.

"When I came (into the league), if you had over 55, it was great. Up until I came here, I had three guys only in the 70s. Now, we've got several," said Keenan, stressing how significant breaking that high-water 70-mark is.

"We've got many, many, many in the high-60s."

Jarome Iginla is once again king. The captain has taken top spot in five of the past 10 years -- the most recent blip coming two years ago when Chuck Kobasew claimed the title.

The pack, though, is catching up.

Not known for his passion for the gym in the past, even goaltender Miikka Kiprusoff is reportedly ripped.

"Yeah, he looks good," said Iginla with a laugh. "I haven't eyed him up yet, but he looks good."

There are no Kyle Wellwoods on this roster. Wellwood has been panned for arriving overweight to Vancouver Canucks camp.

Todd Bertuzzi looks like a beast, Matthew Lombardi finished second behind Iginla after shedding a few pounds in the off-season as well.

"We look at the team -- our team is in really good shape," Lombardi said. "I think most guys can say they're in probably the top shapes of their careers."

Keenan has long been known for his demanding stance on conditioning.

Known as Iron Mike for his temper in the past, he'd rather his players have iron lungs.

"Your stamina ... you can call on your skill-set for much longer periods of time during a game without fatigue," Keenan said. "That makes a huge difference in our game, because it's a game where you change on the fly, there's only one time-out and some TV time-outs."

Veteran Craig Conroy, who improved his scores this year despite becoming the eldest player on the Flames roster at 37, figures it'll pay off late in games.

"You want to be a team that's a three-period club ... never getting tired. You just want to be going, going, going, going and work other teams into the ground," Conroy said.

"The only way to do that is if you're in better shape than other teams.

"It might not work the first period and might not work the second, but we feel by the time the third period rolls around, we can be in charge."


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