SUN Hockey Pool

Too many Flames passengers

ERIC FRANCIS, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 11:27 PM ET

As practice wound down Thursday, the Flames were divided into two teams for a shootout.

Facing one another across the rink, each squad was allowed to choose the other team’s shooter, sparking plenty of laughter and debate.

Their amusement level rose when Jarome Iginla was selected, only to have a nifty breakaway move stymied by a post.

Their cheekiness was quickly followed up by selecting the captain once again. Different jukes, same result.

“They knew it was bad ice and that my moves on the ice wouldn’t work — if I could just have gotten a scraping, they would have worked,” chuckled Iginla afterwards.

“But they’re also hoping it gives me a little more practise in case I get another penalty shot. I was working through moves not to do, so I’m paring it down to what to do.”

The good-natured ribbing that punctuated the afternoon is all part of the master plan aimed at lightening up a dressing room and an organization deemed far too tense under Darryl Sutter.

Even after a pair of losses put their playoff hopes even further out of reach, the mood was refreshingly light yesterday for a club desperately trying to change its course.

However, at the end of the day, their jovial approach does little to mask the fact there are far too many passengers on this squad for it to make any headway.

As a matter of fact, the club is getting closer and closer to running out of players to bench for indifferent or just plain ineffective play.

Yesterday, it was Ales Kotalik wearing the white jersey — hockey’s equivalent to the dunce cap — meaning he’s likely the odd man out with Craig Conroy tonight against Detroit.

Wednesday, it was Niklas Hagman’s turn to sit in the press box.

Prior to that, it was Curtis Glencross scarfing down free popcorn with the scribes just as Matt Stajan has also done earlier.

All healthy, all justified with an eye on trying to provide the proverbial kick in the pants some players need.

“I think you try different methods to motivate players,” explained assistant coach Dave Lowry, whose staff is essentially out of ways to try sparking some of the deadwood on the squad.

“No. 1, you talk to them.

No. 2, you can take away some of their ice, and No. 3, you show them video, and if you’re still not getting results, you have to address the issue. We need certain players to produce offensively.”

In other words, the benchings will continue as long as the team tries riding on the backs of its unlikely fourth-line scoring heroes of late.

Given how invisible he’s been the last month, how long can it be until Rene Bourque is banished to the box?

For that matter, can anyone on the second or third lines be safe?

Even the first unit was scolded in Vancouver, where Alex Tanguay and Olli Jokinen rode the pine the last 10 minutes of the second frame.

“You’ve got to be mad, you’ve got to be pissed,” Hagman said of how he felt being made an example of.

“Obviously, they’re not satisfied the way things have gone. Obviously, sitting in the press box is not something

I want to do.

“But you’ve just got to come back and work harder, so you bear down and work harder, and eventually, it’s going to start going in.”

Tonight, he’ll flank the Scratch Line alongside Glencross and Stajan. After that, who knows?

“You’re looking for a positive response,” Lowry said of how important it is players respond with the right attitude.

“I don’t think it’s going to help the individual if he comes in and pouts.

“If he pouts, he’ll probably find himself there again in a hurry.”

Yet, despite such a trend, many have been able to smile through the pain.

“We’re trying to, anyway,” said Cory Sarich, a healthy scratch earlier this season.

“We’re not going to get much accomplished the other way — we tried that a good chunk of the season. So we might as well try something different.”


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