SUN Hockey Pool

Declining European NHL start was prudent Flames move

ERIC FRANCIS, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 1:06 AM ET

CALGARY - If the NHL had its way, the Calgary Flames would have been in Europe last week to open the season in Miikka Kiprusoff’s backyard.

However, late last season, the Flames quietly turned down the invitation to play in Finland, when it was decided by club brass that, with the departure of Darryl Sutter, the focus needed to be on improving the culture in Calgary, as opposed to being distracted by one abroad.

“We were prepared and recognize that the commissioner wants every team to go over there at some point,” Flames GM Jay Feaster said.

“We were prepared either way. We did our research, and the research demonstrated that if you were a good team before you came back, you were still a good team, but if you were not a good team, you usually come back and struggled.”

At Christmas last year, the Flames weren’t a good team.

Indeed, the last three Stanley Cup winners opened their seasons in Europe, while seven of the 16 participants in the NHL’s Premiere Series missed the playoffs, some miserably.

The Flames’ tentative plans to originally make the trip to Helsinki help explain why the club’s exhibition schedule ended so early, as preseason dates are set a year in advance. Anaheim and Buffalo opened their seasons Friday in Helsinki, while the Rangers and Kings played in Stockholm.

Given the state of flux the club found itself in midway through last season when Sutter was fired, it was likely a prudent move to politely decline.

Now more notes, quotes and anecdotes from a sports world wondering if there’s anything better in sport than the type of finish the Stamps and Lions pieced together Saturday at BC Place.

AROUND THE HORN

My HNIC Hotstove colleague Elliotte Friedman says the Flames have exhibited interest in Phoenix holdout centre Kyle Turris, but the Coyotes say if he plays at all, it’ll be in Phoenix. Feaster refused comment … The ultimate hockey mom can now be found in Spokane, where the Chiefs roster includes 17-year-old Liam Stewart, the son of rocker Rod Stewart and former Sports Illustrated cover model Rachel Hunter. Who wouldn’t want to car pool in her minivan? … Last time I saw Doug Flutie’s daughter, Alexa, she was an adorable six-year-old. Now, she’s 23 and a cheerleader for the New England Patriots. Not sure whether Googling her makes me feel creepy or just old. A little of both, I guess … I will not apologize for doing the same for Tony La Russa’s daughter, Bianca, who is a Raiderette and well worth the internet time. Stunning ... Last month, Olli Jokinen attended a memorial for teammate and friend Ruslan Salei, one of many who died in the Lokomotiv plane crash. Jokinen’s wife, Katerina, has teamed up with Jason LaBarbera’s wife, Kodette, to lead a fundraising effort for the other families affected by the Sept. 7 tragedy. The two have designed bracelets that will be sold by players’ wives at every rink in the NHL this season, with proceeds going to the families. For more: LoveForLokomotiv.com.

PARTING GIFTS

Make no mistake, the fact Gary Bettman is meeting Edmonton city officials in New York Tuesday is very bad news for the Oilers franchise as it means the possible rink deal is in serious jeopardy if the city doesn’t step up before the Oct. 31 deadline on Daryl Katz’s land option expires … No wonder the Islanders looked so bad during the preseason at the Dome – they flew commercially, which is against the NHL’s rules during the regular season … Unlike Montreal, where the new rinkside glass with more give in it got plenty of media attention, the Dome has been sporting the more-flexible glass all preseason. Thanks to Max Pacioretty, the curved glass next to the benches is in and officials have been told to whistle down any play in which the puck hits it ... Received a note from NHL’s hockey operations minutes after Dion Phaneuf’s big hit on Stephane Da Costa Saturday, saying that was the type of clean blast the league still wants in the game.


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