Bouwmeester eyes improved season

RANDY SPORTAK, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 3:27 PM ET

Jay Bouwmeester didn't go to the top of the world to get away from the disappointment of last season.

But he was darn close.

For 15 days in the summer, the Calgary Flames defenceman and his girlfriend, Devon, hiked the Haute Route from Chamonix, France, to Zermatt, Switzerland, a 180-km trek which starts at Mont Blanc and ends at the famous Matterhorn.

"There's not a lot of wildlife or anything -- no bears that are going to sneak up and get you," Bouwmeester said. "It was good because I didn't have a phone and didn't have a computer. You were just on your own for a few weeks and able to relax."

They didn't really rough it by carrying a tent, sleeping bags and supplies, opting instead to stay in small-town hotels or mountain cabins, but it was lengthy days of walking from one spectacular view to another, with very little contact with the outside world.

"There were some hard days and long days, but the scenery was good. Every day was different," explained Bouwmeester, who regularly hikes in Jasper National Park during the summer. "You'd go through these valleys and through a pass, and everything was a little different to look at. It was fun."

Now, Flames fans know Bouwmeester can ascend to great heights in the mountains.

The question is whether he'll climb to the high level of expectations on the ice.

The Flames roster is filled with players lo oking to bounce back from sub-par 2009-10 NHL seasons, and Bouwmeester is one of the headliners of the group.

The 2002 third-overall selection of the Florida Panthers was supposed to be the final piece to put the Flames over the top when they acquired him last summer within a few days of him becoming an unrestricted free agent. They got him from the Panthers for the rights to pending UFA Jordan Leopold and a third-round draft choice and signed him to a five-year, US$33-million contract.

However, Bouwmeester struggled, with just three goals and 29 points -- not even close to expectations for the player coming off a 15-goal, 42-point season.

"In a lot of ways, my season went how the team's did," Bouwmeester said. "At the middle of the year, we had a tough stretch, and at the end, it didn't go how we wanted it to.

"You have to put it behind you -- move on. More than anything, you want to get back playing and get into the season because you know you can do better than what came about last year."

The Flames organization is sure pushing for more.

Flames head coach Brent Sutter even added a wrinkle to the team's powerplay by rotating Bouwmeester and his 6-foot-4, 214-lb. body in front of the opposition net for screens and rebounds.

When it comes down to it, the onus will be on Bouwmeester to make more things happen.

For all his supporters, Bouwmeester has his share of detractors, who see his laid-back, even-keeled personality as a sign he's not driven to succeed or possessing a killer instinct.

"Nobody gets to this level of what we're doing if you don't some sort of competitiveness to you, or some sort of drive," Bouwmeester said. "Just because you don't lose it or go ranting and raving all the time doesn't mean you don't have that desire to do well. People express things in different ways."

randy.sportak@sunmedia.ca

TWITTER.COM/RANDYSPORTAK


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