April 7th, 2003

Season Wrap Up

Geoff Gordon

Q - What do the Hartford Whalers and Winnipeg Jets have in common? A - Both teams were still in the NHL the last time the Flames made the playoffs.

Not good.

But if you're a Calgary Flames fan (and I assume you are or else you're just not very proficient at browsing the internet) you already know that this year was not good.

You already know that your team currently leads the league with its seventh consecutive year out of the playoffs.

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You already know that your team wasn't even close to making the playoffs this season finishing in 12th spot in the Western Division and a staggering 17 points back of the eighth place Oilers.

And, you already know that the steady stream of stories raking your team over the coals is just around the corner.

But why? Why do we have to drag out the eulogy and dissect every setback and stumble on the way to their playoff grave? Why must every mistake and miscue be analyzed and rehashed? Why does the past always have to deal with the negative? Hey we all make mistakes right? I mean you buy the Betamax because the guy at the store said it had a better picture! Who knew there would only ever be 11 movies to choose from - it was a simple mistake, OK!!!

Alas, I digress, as I said the positives.

1. Daryl Sutter: This was by far the best thing to come out of the 2002/03 Flames season. Sutter is a proven winner and a true leader on the bench, in the room and in the community. He is a break from his recent player-friendly yet ineffective predecessors who have made their way through the revolving door that has been the Flames head coaching position. Accountability and effort are his trademarks. A player who doesn't hit the ice with the same intensity and moxie he mustered night in and night out during his playing days will more than likely find his name plastered in the sports section and his butt securely fastened to the bench. The Flames went a modest 19-18-8-1 under Sutter compared to 10-18-4-3 before his arrival. Not exactly the Sistine Chapel but a great place to start. 

2. Jarome Iginla: After struggling with injuries during the first half of the campaign Jarome proved to all his doubters that he is indeed the same all-star player who won the Art Ross and Maurice Richard trophies last year and not a one-season wonder. Through all the tough times and setbacks he experienced this year not once did he utter a word of Savardian discontent or malaise in the media. He is the complete package and deservedly the cornerstone of this franchise. Kudos to management for not losing faith and shipping him off to a large U.S. market which would have effectively made the Flames the Montreal Expos of the hockey world. 

3. The Fans: After years of disappointment and heartache one would think the fan base would have soured long ago. Quite the contrary. The support from the flaming faithful has been excellent considering the Flames were realistically out of the playoff race in mid-February. Average attendance was more than 16000 for the year including 13 sellouts. Most importantly the electricity is back on most nights and those at the games are making some noise and finally putting to rest the 1990's 'Library-Dome' nickname. 

4. The Battle of Alberta: With more drama than an episode of Days of Our Lives the 2002/03 edition of The Battle of Alberta was, for the first time in many years, officially back on. Every game seemed to have all the makings of a classic north-south showdown, whether it was the infamous tongue-maiming ceremony held by Craig McTavish at the Saddledome back in January or any one of the spirited tilts since. During their five game season series the teams combined for 30 goals, 273 penalty minutes and five full hours of great hockey. Just think, if the Flames could play the Oilers every night they'd be on pace for a 50 win 100 point season…and the beer at the games would be free…and all the seats would be leather…and…never mind. 

5. The Young Talent: It may seem odd to praise the performance of many of the team's young bucks when on paper the stats and the wins simply weren't there. Despite the results however many young Flames finished the year quite well. Highly touted prospect Jordan Leopold was by far the most improved player on the squad this season. After Derek Morris was shipped off to Colorado, Leopold was expected to fill in nicely and pick up the offensive slack. That did not happen and he struggled mightily to put up the numbers. A mid-season reassignment to Saint John with the Baby Flames and the arrival of the aforementioned Sutter have brought his game back to life. During the final month of the season Leopold was quite often the Flames ice-time leader and began to show the poise and patience of a game well beyond his years. Also on the backline, Robyn Regehr established himself as a major presence in the Flames lineup. Listed at 6'2" and 210 lbs he finally began to put his size and strength to better use finishing with 87 PIM and a career high 12 assists. More valuable than any of his measurable stats was the fact that Regehr became a player opposing teams simply didn't want to play against. Oleg Saprykin has returned to the official prospect list after nearly dropping off the face of the earth. After bursting onto the scene in training camp in 1999 his stock has been up and down more times than the NASDAQ the past few years. From threatening to go back to Russia to tearing up the AHL at the start of this season, Saprykin seems to have finally come around. He has great speed and creates plenty of chances in the offensive zone although his numbers (52GP-8G-14A-22PTS) don't tell the full story. The coaching staff has worked long and hard with the young Russian on shooting and finishing plays and if his learning curve continues the way it's heading expect a much better 2003/04. Honourable mention also goes to winger Chris Clark who had career highs in assists (12), points (22), penalty minutes (118) and matched his best goals total of last year with 10.


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