Dogs not so dry in desert

RANDY SPORTAK, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:03 AM ET

Traditionally, players put some cash up for grabs when facing their former team.

Problematic for the Phoenix Coyotes tonight is there are so many candidates when they face the Calgary Flames.

“I think everybody will have to do it,” said former Flames defenceman Jim Vandermeer. “There’s lots of Alberta boys and lots of guys who played here. There’s lots of incentive for the boys to play well.”

Vandermeer is one of three Coyotes who’ll face their old team tonight. Fellow blueliner Adrian Aucoin and centre Matthew Lombardi are in the same boat.

While Lombardi could see a deal coming when Calgary sent him to Phoenix last season and Aucoin left via free agency, Vandermeer was surprised in the summer when he was dealt for Brandon Prust.

“Definitely caught off-guard, but when you looked at the reasons why, it all made sense,” Vandermeer said. “Those things happen, but everything works out. It’s all good.”

Aucoin knew his time in Calgary had come to a close when Flames GM Darryl Sutter acquired Jay Bouwmeester just before the free-agency deadline and signed him to a long-term deal.

“The writing was on the wall,” Aucoin said.

“I talked to Darryl a bit before, and I don’t think there were any hard feelings. Any time you can improve a team, it’s what you have to do, and it wasn’t a shock.

“Both years I was here, we had a really good team, so it was frustrating to not make it past the first round of the playoffs.”

His decision to sign with the Desert Dogs appears to have worked out. Although many pundits were calling the Coyotes a last-place team, Aucoin knew they were in the mix until the trade deadline last season and believed they were on the upswing.

“I didn’t foresee Tip (head coach Dave Tippett) coming in, and I think he’s the biggest asset, right now,” Aucoin said. “I knew a few of the guys here and knew the guys’ character.

“You can see when teams don’t have the right guys, and I thought the guys here were the right guys. They’ve been the ones leading this team.”

That feeling put Vandermeer’s mind at ease after the deal. After all, players don’t like going from a top-level squad to the bottom.

“You could see the upside. They had a good, young skilled team, and you knew they were going to make changes,” Vandermeer said. “As the summer went on, they made good changes. If we play the way we’re supposed to, we can be a really good team.”

But you know facing a former team brings an extra charge. Maybe even some scores to settle?

“No, it’s all good. I got along with everybody over there,” said Vandermeer, who was coached by Brent Sutter in junior. “There’s an extra edge that creeps up. You always want to do well against the former team and coach.”

Ice chips

After missing last game due to a lower body injury, C Martin Hanzal took part in yesterday’s practice and may return tonight. Injured D Ed Jovanovski and D Zbynek Michalek are also close to returning but are not pegged to face the Flames ... LW Shane Doan’s goal against the Philadelphia Flyers Saturday was the 264th of his career — all with the Jets/Coyotes franchise — which ties him with Thomas Steen for third Winnipeg/Phoenix behind Dale Hawerchuk and Keith Tkachuk.

randy.sportak@sunmedia.ca


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