With the NHL season at its halfway mark, the Calgary Flames find themselves in an excellent position in the Western Conference. The Flames currently hold a seven point lead over the second place Vancouver Canucks in the Western Conference with two games in hand, and, with the season heading towards the All-Star break, Calgary is looking like a solid post-season team.
Having found itself at the bottom of the playoff rung the past three seasons, Calgary’s first place position should provide the squad with a healthy dose of confidence heading into the latter half of the season. So without further ado, I present the Calgary Flames mid-season awards for 2008-2009:
MOST MEMORABLE GOAL: This is a somewhat sentimental pick for me—I have to pick Brett Sutter scoring against Anaheim on December 23 in his first game in the NHL. The eighth Sutter to ever play in the NHL and the second of the second generation, Sutter scored in Calgary with his dad watching in the stands (Darryl Sutter, the Flames’ GM). Though he has played only two more games this season, his goal gives Calgary great hope for the future of the franchise, long after Jarome Iginla retires.
MOST MEMORABLE WIN: A relatively recent accomplishment, the Flames dismantled San Jose at the Saddledome on January 6. Having lost to Chicago by the same score two nights earlier, Calgary played solidly all game long; Daymond Langkow had two goals in the game, and Kiprusoff made some extraordinary saves before Calgary was able to put the game away in the third period after completing three out of four penalty kills.
MOST DISAPPOINTING PERFORMANCE: A fan favorite for the past few years, Matthew Lombardi has done little to live up to expectations so far this season. Having played in only twenty nine games so far this season, Lombardi has failed to excite, racking up only fourteen points so far this season. He will look to rebound in the latter half of the season and hopefully play a role in the postseason or else he might see himself dealt at the deadline.
BIGGEST SURPRISE: Rene Bourque, the talented left-winger from Alberta, receives this for actions above and beyond any preseason prediction. With nearly thirty points through the first half of the season, Bourque has successfully transitioned himself into a first-rate everyday player even before completing his first season in Calgary.
The rookie averages 16 minutes a game—more than veteran Craig Conroy and only a minute less than first-liner Cammalleri; he also has the highest plus-minus of any player on the team (of plus 14) and has played in every game so far this season.
IRON HORSE: Having started all but two games so far this season, Miikka Kiprusoff has proven he is capable of shouldering the team and carrying it to the top of the Northwest division. After an off-year in the previous season, many hoped Coach Mike Keenan would give the Kipper more breaks during the season to leave him fresh, but Keenan’s faith in the Finnish goaltender has been rewarded.
He has been in net for all 26 of Calgary wins, has a GAA below three, and has three shut-outs so far this season to complement a save percentage above ninety percent. The Flames need him to remain healthy into the second half of the season if they want to remain atop the division.
NEWCOMER OF THE YEAR: I wanted to give Rene Bourque this award as well, but I decided instead that Mike Cammalleri merited this award instead. Traded during the off-season, Cammalleri has successfully erased from Calgary fans’ memory the loss of Kristian Huselius and Alex Tanguay. Second only to Jarome Iginla in points, Cammalleri has proved invaluable on the power play while also doing something his predecessors could not—play defense.
BEST OFFENSIVE DEFENSEMAN: Though his goal-scoring has tapered off since last season, Dion Phaneuf once again merits this award. He averages nearly 30 minutes a game, and has nearly 25 assists, 13 of which come on the power play. All this while still delivering bone-crushing hits the fans have come to expect and playing solid defense.
BEST DEFENSIVE DEFENSEMAN: Second only to Dion Phaneuf in average minutes per game, Robyn Regehr has played in nearly every game so far this season and has the third highest plus-minus on the team (plus eight). He rarely finds himself out of position, and sacrifices his body every night in front of Kiprusoff, clearing the crease of screens; his improved play has aided Kiprusoff’s rejuvenation so far this season.
MOST VALUABLE PLAYER: Calgary’s success this season, as opposed to seasons past, is more a result of all-around team effort rather than awesome individual performances. Still, Jarome Iginla is having another extraordinary season, racking up 47 points so far, 21 of which came on the power play. He is still averaging over 20 minutes a game, and so far this season appears to be completely healthy.