Banner caught Saprykin's eye

RANDY SPORTAK -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 8:59 AM ET

The banner, hanging in the rafters, caught Oleg Saprykin's eye.

It's hard to miss, being so big and situated in clear view from the visiting team bench at the Saddledome.

"You still remember those days and what happened," said the Phoenix Coyotes forward, who was a big part of the Flames' Western Conference championship team of 2003-04.

"It's a great feeling to see the banner.

"But it's one step. If it was up to me, it would be a different banner (denoting a Stanley Cup title) and that stuff goes through your head -- the goal in Game 6 and stuff like that."

Saprykin, dealt along with Denis Gauthier to the Coyotes for Daymond Langkow in the summer of 2004, is the first ex-player from that squad to return to the 'Dome to see the Western Conference championship banner.

He's also the first to face his old squad.

Standing outside the visiting dressing room yesterday morning, it was easy to see he felt at home.

"A little different, a little weird going to the other bench," said the 24-year-old left winger. "But it's part of the business, part of the work, and you just have to get in and play well."

Gauthier didn't make the trip, having broken a bone in his hand on the weekend, giving Saprykin the honour of return all to himself.

Calgary's first-round pick, 11th overall, in the 1999 draft, Saprykin skated in 187 regular-season contests for the Flames, in which he collected 29 goals and 47 assists. During the 26-game playoff run, he scored three goals and three helpers.

His biggest goal as a Flame was the overtime winner in Game 5 of the Stanley Cup final against the Tampa Bay Lightning.

A couple of months later, though, Saprykin was traded for the first time in his life.

"It was hard but that's what's happened," he said. "You have to move on and step it up for a new team, be the best you can be."

The Coyotes can't complain too loudly about how he's performed for his new squad. Heading into last night's clash with the Flames, Saprykin was tied for the team lead in both goals (2) and points (4).

He had a chance to add to his totals last night but came up empty on a third-period penalty shot.

But the early season point production isn't the most exciting part of the season so far.

That would be having Wayne Gretzky serving as head coach of the Coyotes.

"It's an unbelievable experience," said Saprykin, who became a Canadian citizen this past summer. "It's nice to have to him behind the bench, the best player in the world. It's great to be with such an unbelievable player."


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