Denis still dogged by injury

RANDY SPORTAK -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 8:12 AM ET

PHOENIX -- Denis Gauthier's return to the ice is near but it's not in time to face his old friends.

Gauthier, the long-time Flames defenceman traded to the Phoenix Coyotes in the summer of 2004, is almost healthy enough from his broken finger to be back in action.

Although he's missed 13 games to date, three have been against Calgary, making the fourth of the year, scheduled for the Stampede City in early April the last chance this season.

That, of course, bars a playoff series between the clubs.

There is good news for Gauthier. His expected return to Coyotes togs is slated for next Wednesday when the Desert Dogs play host to the Colorado Avalanche.

"Nice to have a target," Gauthier said after partaking in the morning skate.

Certainly nice to have something to look forward to, after shattering the pinkie finger on his right hand early in the season.

The digit is still swollen to twice the size of his other pinkie and the stitch marks remain from the operation that saw a plate and eight screws inserted.

"I had three knuckles," he said. "It's been tough. Fingers are a long way from the feet so you can skate. The last three weeks, it's been like Groundhog Day.

"I'm in better shape now than I was before."

Feeling pretty darn good, too.

Having spent six full seasons in Calgary, Gauthier was the Flames' second longest serving player when he finally was able to skate in a NHL playoff game during the club's amazing run all the way to the Stanley Cup final.

(In what seems par for the course for the likable but seemingly always injured rearguard is the fact he only played six post-season games before a knee injury ended his experience.)

With things finally looking on the ups for the Flames, and young defenceman Dion Phaneuf ready to make the jump to the pro ranks, he was dealt to the Coyotes with Oleg Saprykin for Daymond Langkow.

The disappointment of leaving what had become home for him and his family was replaced with his first conversation with new head coach, Wayne Gretzky.

Gretzky, with a young team short on significant playoff experience, called Gauthier into his office to tell the defenceman what he wanted to see during the season.

The gist from the Great One was he wanted the 29-year-old with nearly 400 games under his belt to be a major leader in the Coyotes dressing room and to relate his experiences -- especially the Flames' run to the final in 2004 -- to the younger players on the squad.

"Coming from him, that's pretty special," Gauthier said. "That made me feel really good."


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