Hagman making case to stave off banishment

RANDY SPORTAK, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:16 PM ET

CALGARY - Everyone in the Max Bell Arena could hear Miikka Kiprusoff say something to Niklas Hagman.

Seeing as Kiprusoff stopped his Finnish countryman in a penalty shot during Friday afternoon’s intra-squad game, it’s easy to guess it was some form of trash talk.

“It probably was, but I didn’t hear it,” Hagman said. “I was way too tired at that point.”

Then again, Hagman had ammunition for a retort.

Hagman scored twice on Kiprusoff during the game, which the White squad — which head coach Brent Sutter said will be the group to face the Edmonton Oilers Saturday night in pre-season action — won by a 3-1 count.

Pretty easy to fire back with that.

“Well, yeah,” Hagman said with a smirk but not wanting to come across the wrong way.

Two goals in the team’s intra-squad game.

Two goals in the pre-season clash with the Vancouver Canucks, a 4-3 defeat Tuesday on the West Coast.

Think we’re seeing what a motivated Hagman can do?

Sure seems that way.

“I know I’ve got to play well if I want to make the team,” the 31-year-old left winger said. “It’s still just the start of the camp and a lot to be played, but the start, I feel good.”

The Flames don’t need to clear a one-way contract off the books to fit under the salary cap, but Hagman, who is in the final year of a deal which pays him US$3 million this season, seemed to be an obvious choice if enough young guns earned a spot on the opening-day roster.

He hasn’t just struggled since coming to Calgary in the infamous Dion Phaneuf trade. It’s been a disaster.

Hagman, who had 20 goals in 55 games for the Toronto Maple Leafs before the Jan. 31, 2010, trade, managed just five goals and 11 points in 27 games after the deal during the 2009-10 campaign.

Last season was even worse, with only 11 goals and 27 points in 71 clashes.

Not only was he a healthy scratch late in the season, but Hagman also went unclaimed through waivers.

The next step would be a banishment to the minors, a fate he and everyone else saw happen for Ales Kotalik.

When asked whether Kotalik’s fall from grace with the organization entered into his mind while preparing for this season, Hagman immediately said: “No, not really. It’s hockey, and guys go up and down. I didn’t look at it that way.”

However, he admitted it was something he noticed.

“I didn’t want to go the same path as he did, so maybe a little bit, but I wasn’t comparing myself,” he said.

Considering Kotalik referred to himself as a “broken player” Flames fans should be thankful Hagman hadn’t sunk to that depth, not only with his performance but also his attitude.

However, Hagman admitted he is in much better shape this fall compared to a year ago and worked hard to get his skating back to the speed he used to play with by spending much of his summer working with a speed skating coach in Finland.

“We were focussing on getting my legs faster and stronger,” he said. “In hockey, there are other aspects, too. You’ve got to play with a stick and a puck. I’m not saying speed-skating’s easy — some of those guys are so fast, it’s unbelievable — but it was nice to train with guys like that because you want to push yourself harder.”


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