Miles of smiles

ERIC FRANCIS -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 12:47 PM ET

 Given two full days off following their conference clincher over San Jose, most Flames players used them to sit back and take it all in.

 While coach Darryl Sutter and a handful of players watched a highly entertaining Philly/Tampa game Thursday, Ville Nieminen enjoyed 'family time' and Craig Conroy was at the movies.

  "I took my two daughters to Shrek 2," beamed Conroy.

 "They both liked it ... I liked it, too."

 Preoccupied with hockey for months on end, Conroy enjoyed rare time off to spend being a full-time dad for two straight days.

 It's those moments away from the rink that add perspective to their accomplishments while also ensuring his daughter, Taylor, is one of the most popular kids in school.

 "My fifth-grader's friends are all asking her if I'll be picking her up," said Conroy, whose schoolyard shuttle stops have now become lengthy autograph sessions.

 "One day, I was a little overwhelmed by it. There were about 400 kids. My wife said, 'What took you so long?' I said, 'Hey, there are a lot of book bags, binders and other things over there that needed to be signed.' "

 One thing all the players have done the last few days is wade through the reams of phone messages they've received from well-wishers around the league.

 Sutter said the support has been, well, hard to take at times.

 "The toughest thing I've had to deal with are the 350 phone messages on my cell phone, which is ridiculous," said Sutter, loose enough to crack a few smiles.

 "Former players, guys from other teams, management, coaches ... guys you hated when you played against but wanted to have on your team.

 "That's the best part -- that's what makes it fun."

 Adding to the memories being compiled throughout their unlikely playoff run, Sutter and Jarome Iginla received phone calls from Prime Minister Paul Martin after the Game 6 win.

 When a scribe suggested Sutter, ever the farmer, should have discussed the whole mad cow issue with Martin, Sutter shrivelled.

 "Shhhh," giggled Sutter.

 "This isn't the forum for that."

 If Martin tried calling Robyn Regehr, the hulking defenceman won't know until this summer when he finally wades through a mailbox he's left full on purpose. He's decided it's best to leave his phone off for the most part.

 Not Conroy, Mr. Chit-chat.

 "I have 800 million messages -- it's crazy. I've got a lot of friends," said Conroy, the AT&T poster boy, before turning to a camera to send a mock message to all his callers.

 " 'Thanks for calling, I really appreciate it but I can't get any more tickets.' "

 The light mood followed an even lighter workout by some of the players who gathered at the 'Dome yesterday wearing the same smiles that one million Calgarians and countless Canadians from east to west are sporting.

 Two nights earlier, there were close to 40,000 of those grins on 17 Ave., where some of the players ventured to soak in the revelry.

 "I didn't see any breasts," reported Warrener, before being informed roomie Steve Montador had, in fact, been flashed.

 "What can I say? Steve's a lucky guy."

 Krzysztof Oliwa likened the boisterous gathering to something he saw growing up Poland.

 "In Poland, the first of May is Worker's Day," explained Oliwa.

 "My friends in Poland are watching on TV and asking me about everything and I told them it looked like Worker's Day in Warsaw on 17th Ave."

 Regardless of how the players celebrated Wednesday's win, they were all relieved to get two days off and used them to be as relaxed and carefree as possible.

 They're not concerned at all about added hype, pressure or which team they'll face Tuesday.

 Stephane Yelle summed up the mood best when asked which team he preferred playing against for the Cup.

 "Whoever wins (tonight) will be the team we play," said Stephane Yelle, before cracking up.

 "That's my deep thinking for the day, boys."

 Fair enough.


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