Veteran Eagle linemates Randy Bucyk, 26, and Rich Chernomaz, 25, are having their best seasons as scorers with 171 points between them through 75 games.
"Just riding the young kids' coattails," says Bucyk, center of the IHL's strongest-scoring line that also includes rookie Paul Ranheim, the best goalscorer the Eagles have ever had.Bucyk's comment is a lie. It's like saying John Stockton loated into the NBA All-Star Game.
"I'd consider it false modesty - or stupidity," says Coach Paul Baxter with a laugh.
Actually, the way Bucyk and Chernomaz play tugs the youngsters along. They set an example - hard work every shift. "They're both very competitive," Baxter says. "And they provide consummate leadership capabilities and display them on and off the ice."
What's impressive is that both are young enough to still have futures, but they have willingly taken on different roles because of the wealth of young talent on the Eagle team.
"You've got to be able to read the situation you're put in and understand what your job is," says Bucyk. "When you have a young team, they're very impressionable."
Chernomaz sees it as duty. "I get a good feeling inside being part of the Calgary Flames organization," he says. "A lot of people think it's the class of the NHL. As a player and captain, I've got to add to that and help the younger players."
"They are amazing in that respect," says Ranheim, who learns from them daily. "They come to play every night.
"I think they realize," says Ranheim, "some of the younger players are ahead of them in terms of the Calgary Flames, but they're very unselfish in their work ethic and happy for the young guys."
"Any two other players in the league I could have put with Paul," says Baxter, "I don't think he could have demonstrated his offensive capabilities better. I couldn't have picked two better players because of their understanding of the game."
Chernomaz, with 92 now, should become one of a handful of Eagles to score 100 points in a season, joining Joe Mullen, Lyle Bradley, Doug Palazzari, Scott MacLeod, Brent Sapergia and Richie Hansen. That has come despite a drop in his goalscoring from last year, when he had 48 to lead the team. He has 32 this season. He admits the pressure of being a goalscorer for the line has shifted to Ranheim, and he says he looks for Ranheim first. He is dissatisfied with himself for not goaling more, but, he says, "In some ways, I've developed into a more complete player."
He has 60 assists to 47 last year, and he's really taken to his new job as penalty killer with Bucyk - Chernomaz and Jim Johannson lead the league in short-handed goals with seven each.
Bucyk, too, has broadened his game. He's become Baxter's most trusted faceoff man, winning virtually every draw in some games. Ranheim's record-breaking 60th goal came off a Bucyk-won faceoff last Thursday.
Bucyk is the Eagles' No. 4 scorer with 79 points, three short of his best season ever - last year's 82. He started slowly but picked up after a week in December playing with Team Canada in the Izvestia Tournament in Moscow. He scored five points his first night back; he credits that to getting used to playing with Chernomaz and Ranheim.
Partly it was luck, too. Prior to his trip to Russia, Bucyk had a long stint where he'd make the hits that separated opponents from pucks, allowing Chernomaz and Ranheim to race up-ice and score, but because he didn't touch the puck, he didn't get points. "I get just as much satisfaction out of doing that," he says. "People who have knowledge of the game realize that's important, and that's why it doesn't bother me," he says. "It's part of the game."