SUN Hockey Pool

Sarich blocks out memory

STEVE MACFARLANE, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 10:13 AM ET

A clear plastic ankle protector skittered across the ice during the Flames game against the Ottawa Senators Thursday night.

But Cory Sarich got rid of his a while ago.

“I think it was someone on their team,” Sarich said Saturday before flying to Vancouver for Sunday’s big game against the Canucks.

“I haven’t been wearing them lately.

“I could have used them. But oh well.”

Blocking five shots against the Sens — second on the night only to blueline partner Mark Giordano — left Sarich in need of a little ice. The fact he’s willing to continue to get in front of pucks shows how comfortable he is with the ankle injury that kept him out of action for more than a month mid-season.

That’s allowed him to get back in a groove and play some of his best hockey.

“Good. Really good,” he said of the way he’s feeling now. “A couple of bumps and bruises, but it’s good.”

Admittedly, Sarich struggled at times when returning to the lineup early in January. His minutes reflected that.

With a revamped blueline that now includes newcomers Ian White and Steve Staios following the departure of the underachieving Dion Phaneuf, Sarich is finding his niche.

“I don’t know what to attribute it to. I feel healthy — that’s the biggest thing,” he said. “I don’t like to use it as an excuse, but I didn’t feel like myself completely even when I first came back.

“I feel healthy, and I think that’s helped a lot.”

The makeup of the Flames defence is making a difference, too. It has a different feel than it did just a month ago.

Maybe it’s not as flashy as it was with the young and always dangerous Phaneuf, but it does seem more reliable.

With the forwards making a point of coming back to help out and the Flames playing workmanlike hockey during their current four-game winning streak, Sarich feels like he’s his element.

“We’ve got guys here that are focused and are team-first,” said the 31-year-old rearguard, who stands 6-foot-4 and weighs in around 207 lb.

“My job is easier to do.

I maybe look a little better on the ice when our team is functioning well, because I’m a piece that just fits in there.

“I’ve never considered myself a guy that can go out there and change a game, but I can fit in well and mesh well. I like it when our focus is team-first. Lately, it’s been working.

“I think that’s the way we need to approach the game.”

With a $3.6-million cap hit that extends another season, Sarich has come under fire at times this campaign.

Playing with Giordano, who’s been the team’s most consistent defenceman all year, Sarich is able to anchor the pairing defensively and is back to battling at full strength. The cries that he’s overpaid are receding.

Come playoff time, the more familiar kudos for hard work will likely return for No. 6.

And if the Flames make it to the post-season, he’ll be just as responsible as the stars on the team that got them there.


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