'Tis the season to thrill

RANDY SPORTAK

, Last Updated: 5:54 AM ET

A home-opener against Vancouver Oct. 1.

Two skirmishes in the Battle of Alberta, both in Edmonton.

A visit from the Montreal Canadiens.

And all within the first four games.

Not a bad way to start the NHL season for the Calgary Flames.

Calgary's 2009-10 schedule was unveiled yesterday, and it also includes a rare visit from Ilya Kovalchuk when the Atlanta Thrashers come to town in December, the traditional New Year's Eve tilt against the Oilers, a date hosting Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins mid-January, and a close-out with the Vancouver Canucks.

On top of the six games against their Northwest Division rivals and four clashes with the rest of the Western Conference, the Flames will play host to all three of Canada's Eastern Conference teams, as well as the New York Rangers, the Atlanta Thrashers, the Pittsburgh Penguins, the Philadelphia Flyers, the Carolina Hurricanes and new head coach Brent Sutter's former team, the New Jersey Devils.

The 82-game slate also has a break of more than two weeks from mid-February until March, when the league shuts down for the Olympic tournament in Vancouver, which could have a heavy Flames content with four players in the mix for spots on Canada's squad, plus Olli Jokinen and Miikka Kiprusoff expected to play for Finland.

The NHL season kicks off Oct. 1 with an all-Canadian double-header for fans north of the border. First, Montreal and Toronto kick off the festivities before Calgary and Vancouver meet up for the nightcap. Boston also faces Washington that night, as do the San Jose Sharks and Colorado Avalanche. The league's European invasion continues the next couple of days, with the Detroit Red Wings and St. Louis Blues playing a pair of games in Stockholm, while the Chicago Blackhawks and Florida Panthers will meet twice in Helsinki.

All 30 teams will be in action Oct. 3.

Fenway Park in Boston will be the host site of this season's Winter Classic on New Year's Day, when the Bruins face the Philadelphia Flyers.

As for quirks in Calgary's schedule, there are a few.

The Flames open the season with eight of their first 12 games at home, but pay for it in November with a stretch that sees eight of nine games on the road. Also, Calgary will play all three of its games in Edmonton before the end of December.

PRIMEAU JOINS WRANGLERS

The Calgary Flames ECHL affiliate, the Las Vegas Wranglers, named former NHL all-star Keith Primeau their director of player development yesterday. Primeau, who retired from the NHL in 2006, spent 15 seasons in the NHL.

RANDY.SPORTAK@SUNMEDIA.CA


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