Cory finds home at 'Dome

ERIC FRANCIS

, Last Updated: 9:13 AM ET

Cory Sarich and Darryl Sutter have only shaken hands twice in their lives.

The first time came minutes before Sarich's Tampa Bay Lightning were handed the Stanley Cup following a seven-game triumph over the Flames.

The second came yesterday, minutes before Sutter handed the free agent defenceman $18 million.

"The only time was out on the ice (three) years back and no words were exchanged," said the 6-ft. 3-in., 210-lb. 28-year-old of their initial meeting. "It's nice to put a face to a name."

Nice to put a name to a contract, too, especially for the Flames, who needed to add quality depth to a blueline that officially lost Roman Hamrlik and Brad Stuart to unrestricted free agency yesterday, as expected.

While millions of Canadians surely enjoyed their Canada Day, consider how Sarich's unfolded:

Mere minutes after the 10 a.m. free agent sweepstakes began, the phone in his Calgary home started ringing with offers from around the league. At 10:20 a.m., he received a most unexpected five-year offer from Sutter, who he previously assumed would bring back either Hamrlik or Stuart.

Upon informing wife Reagan of the deal, which would allow them to stay in their summer home all year long (wedged between family members in B.C. and his native Saskatoon), he was given the nod to finalize the deal. Within hours, he was down at the 'Dome meeting team brass, who gave him a free Flames golf shirt and introduced him to the media at 2 p.m.

"I don't think this would have happened if I didn't live in Calgary," said the former first-rounder, whose younger brother Rod played for the Hitmen from 1996-2002 before playing in Sheffield, England, the last two years.

"After I heard the news, it was pretty much a snap decision. It's a good fit for me. I'm a guy who likes to stay put and be part of a core process."

Sutter said Sarich was on a very short list of blueliners he planned on going after to solidify a top four that has been hit with injury woes of late.

"I've always talked about 1: Players from Western Canada, 2: He really wanted to play in Calgary, and 3: He had to fit into the long-term picture we had," smiled Sutter, who said the stay-at-home type would either play with Dion Phaneuf or Robyn Regehr.

Sutter confirmed yesterday the team is in the final stages of extending deals with Regehr and captain Jarome Iginla well past next year. Some progress has been made with Miikka Kiprusoff's extension but said things were on hold until they could meet in person.

He also quashed rumours of deals involving Alex Tanguay, making it clear he had no interest in moving the playmaking winger.

With Sarich and last week's addition of Adrian Aucoin, the Flames have solidified their top two defensive pairs. Rhett Warrener, David Hale and the soon-to-be-inked Mark Giordano round out a group that may see one more depth player added.

A great shot blocker, hitter and character player likened to Regehr, Sarich hopes he may also be able to add more offence with increased minutes. That is if Mike Keenan is OK with that.

"I had a little time to digest that," smiled Sarich, when asked about playing for Iron Mike for the first time.

"Coming from the situation I was in in Tampa, I dealt with a guy (John Tortorella) who can definitely push you in the right direction. I expect nothing but that from him. I think if you're a guy who shows up and plays every night you'll earn his respect."

As well as the $18 million.


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