Iginla an eternal optimist

RANDY SPORTAK, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 8:02 PM ET

Even a person as positive as Jarome Iginla had to burn inside after last season.

How could he not?

The Calgary Flames missed the playoffs, and a big reason was because he struggled mightily down the stretch.

Whent he team needed him most, Iginla went without a goal in the final 11 games, posting just one tally in the final 16 outings.

Still, by the first week of July, the Calgary captain and eternal optimist was already looking forward to the coming season.

“It wasn’t so much about missing the playoffs. We want to win. We want to be a good team and challenge (for the Stanley Cup),” Iginla said after going through the opening day medicals and fitness testing Friday.

“But as the summer went on, I liked the moves we made. I think we all know we need to score more goals, put more pressure on the other teams and draw penalties, and the guys we have make us capable.”

As much as the Flames can talk about the likes of Olli Jokinen, Alex Tanguay, Jay Bouwmeester and even Ales Kotalik returning to the form of seasons past, the Flames remain Iginla’s team.

Therefore, their playoff hopes rest heavily on the shoulders of the captain returning to form.

In short, the Flames can’t afford Iginla to repeat last year’s 32-goal season — his lowest total since the 2000-01 season.

He, too, is gearing for a bounce-back campaign.

“Oh yeah. I think it’s going to be a great year. I’m excited,” he said with a 1,000-watt smile. “I think it’s going to be a really goood year for our team and I think I can be better than I was last year.

“Summer goes fast, but it has been long waiting to get it going again.

“You’re always optimistic at the start of the year, but I think we’re going to be a lot better team than we were last year.”

At least somebody does.

Most prognosticators think the opposite.

Glance through hockey publications, and you’ll find most “so called experts” — as GM Darryl Sutter likes to refer to the media who don’t agree with him — predict the Flames will either miss the playoffs or barely squeak into the post-season.

“It’s all about on the ice anyway,” said Iginla. “A month in, there will be all new storylines. Teams will be doing well, outperforming or under-performing, so it doesn’t matter. It all comes down to getting it done on the ice, and the predictions are out the door as soon as we get into the season.”

Still, it’s easy to write off a team which fell off a cliff a year ago, and is basically turning to the same cast which didn’t make it, as well as a few players coming off struggling seasons.

“People make jokes and say, ‘It’s all the same guys’ but there is a positive to knowing each other and people being here before, being more comfortable,” Iginla insisted. “That can be a good thing at the start of the season and in our room.”

Besides, Iginla is happy to point out he and Tanguay were working together in pre-camp skates to regain the chemistry they had in the 2006-07 season.

“Every year is fun, but it feels moreso this year. I really believe we’re going to be a good team and much improved,” he said. “We’ve got to do it, but I’m excited to get it started.”

The Flames need Iginla to get it started — and get it done.

randy.sportak@sunmedia.ca

twitter.com/RandySportak


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