Most Calgary Flames fans have attended a game at the Scotiabank Saddledome, seen highlights of a young Theo Fleury, and remember where they were when the team won the Stanley Cup in 1989. But only real fans know what the team traded to acquire Miikka Kiprusoff, the best place to grab a bite before the puck drops, or who served as the radio voice of the Flames before Peter Maher. 100 Things Flames Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die is the ultimate resource guide for true fans of Calgary hockey. Whether you're a die-hard fan from the days of Al MacInnis or a new supporter of Johnny Gaudreau, this book contains everything Flames fans should know, see, and do in their lifetime.
About the Author
George Johnson has covered sports in Calgary for more than 30 years, most recently as the sports columnist for the Calgary Herald. He lives in Calgary, Alberta.
Read an Excerpt
May 25, 1989
All these years later, Lanny McDonald still hasn't sat down in front of his flat-screen TV and watched Game 6 from start to finish. Oh, he's often seen highlights. Snippets. Bits and pieces.
The images never change: His younger self, peeling away, arms outstretched, after cashing a diagonal Joe Nieuwendyk pass beyond Montreal netminder Patrick Roy at 4:24 of the second period to establish a 2–1 Calgary Flames lead. The indomitable Doug Gilmour slotting into an empty Montreal net — Roy at the end of the Habs bench — at 18:57 of the third to seal the deal. The gutted but gracious crowd at the fabled old Montreal Forum staying put to salute the only invaders ever to lift the big silver chalice on their hallowed ice. McDonald's own hands wrapped around the Stanley Cup, at the center of the commemorative keepsake on-ice photo, flanked by GM Cliff Fletcher and Nieuwendyk, goaltender Mike Vernon popping up just behind him.
"I could probably play the majority of the game, shift by shift, if I just closed my eyes," the emotional fulcrum of the Calgary Flames' only Stanley Cup–winning march said more than a quarter century later.
They'd done it. Broken the reign of the dynastic Edmonton Oilers, their northern tormentors for so long. Exorcised the demons. After battling through a near loss in round one versus Vancouver, followed by a sweep of the L.A. Kings, the Flames had ousted the Chicago Blackhawks in five games to reach the Finals against hockey's most storied, revered franchise, the Montreal Canadiens. The Canadiens had Roy, Chris Chelios at his snarly best, the sleek Mats Naslund up front, and Pat Burns behind the bench.
It had been a difficult season for McDonald, the Flames' most beloved icon, as a new era dawned in Calgary. The man with the mustache had been shuffled in and out of the lineup during 82 games and then through the playoffs. He'd sat out Game 5's 3–2 Flames win that had put the Campbell Conference champions one night away from the ultimate prize: the Stanley Cup. Given the opponent, the venue, and the stakes, these Flames needed that certain something only Lanny McDonald's presence in the lineup could provide.
"[Assistant coach] Doug Risebrough called me into the trainers' room," recalled McDonald. "He didn't even say it in those words —'You're in the lineup.' All he said was, 'Do you know where you've got to be in all situations?' That was his way of telling me.
"I'll never forget, I'm looking over [Risebrough's] shoulder and there's Bearcat [trainer Jim Murray] kinda peeking around the corner — [Risebrough had] kicked him out of the room — and he let out a whoop, then goes into the room to tell the rest of the players. And I heard a little bit of a cheer. So it was pretty cool."
In a series so evenly matched, the karma of a 16-year unfulfilled quest by one of the modern game's classiest players proved to be the difference. "We kept saying in the dressing room, 'Let's win this for Lanny,'" said Vernon amidst the celebrations that night.
Echoed head coach Terry Crisp: "He is the kind of leader words cannot describe. We hoped that by putting him back in, we'd get a lift for this team, not only emotionally in the dressing room but physically on the ice. And that's what we got."
Game 6 followed the tight style of its five predecessors — none decided by more than two goals. Checking winger Colin Patterson opened scoring, the only goal of the first period. After the nefarious Claude Lemieux equalized early in the second stanza, McDonald broke out with Nieuwendyk and fleet Swedish left winger Hakan Loob. There was less chance of legendary Dunn's famous deli taking Montreal smoked meat off the menu than the old pro McDonald missing the net on that chance.
Because of the emotional resonance of that goal, people still assume it was the game winner. Sorry. Officially, that went to Gilmour, who swatted his first of the game and 10 of the playoffs out of the air at 11:02 of the third during a power play for a 3–1 Calgary advantage. Habs defenseman Rick Green, of all people, pulled one back before Gilmour hit the empty net.
"Storybook?" said McDonald — who would announce his retirement later that summer — in the cramped visiting quarters at the Forum. "I don't know if it's storybook or not. But it certainly is a hell of a way to write the final chapter. This is the most powerful feeling ever in hockey."
Asked about how it felt to finally lift Lord Stanley's chalice, he said, "You know, there isn't an awful lot to it. It's nice to hold. It's the nicest feeling in the world. You feel like you could carry it forever. And I think I will." In the imaginations of Calgarians, and Flames fans everyone, he always has.
The city of oil and stampeding has enjoyed its share of sporting highlights over the years — an Olympic Games in 1988, seven Grey Cup championships in the Canadian Football League — but May 25, 1989, remains special, apart, unique.
For Crisp, a two-time Cup champion as a player in Philadelphia, there was a special kind of satisfaction. He'd taken the best assemblage of talent and won with it. "That's why I admire Scotty Bowman so much," explained Crisp. "Yeah, he had thoroughbreds, but I'll tell ya, as a coach it's often harder to coach thoroughbreds than Mennonite plow horses. It's easy to get the Mennonite plow horses up and working. When you have thoroughbreds, they all want to be first to the starting gate. They all want to be on the power play. They all want the ice time.
"Try keeping them happy. They're all good, but you can't put 'em all on the ice at once. Hell, the hockey, the Xs and Os, is easy. It's the people management. When do you tap a guy, when do you pull him in, when do you turn him loose?" The players would eventually disperse, torn apart by a shifting economic landscape in the NHL and the passage of time, but together they forged an exceptional season, a tremendous playoff run that bonds them together even now.
As a member of the ultraexclusive Triple Gold Club — reserved for those who've won a Stanley Cup, a World Championship, and an Olympic gold medal — right winger Hakan Loob is uniquely qualified to judge which carries the most luster. "Oh," replied the silky Swede without hesitation a few years back. "The Stanley Cup. Not even close. Take out a knife or a pistol ... I'll never change my mind about that. It's special.
"Ask guys who have never won it. They'd pay, lie, cheat, or steal — whatever they had to — to lift it. Cut off their arm. People visit the Hockey Hall of Fame, and you see these kids and their dads just staring at it. It's the Stanley Cup. It's magic."
The Move North
They arrived from the deep American South. From the land of Peachtree Street, soft summer breezes rustling through resplendent azaleas, and wonderful gabled mansions fronted by towering columns. From Scarlett and Rhett and "Frankly my dear, I don't give a damn" land.
The Atlanta Flames were born in 1971, along with the New York Islanders, in response to the threat posed by the fledgling World Hockey Association. Their competitive history could, at best, be considered checkered, qualifying for the playoffs in six of their eight seasons but never advancing past the first round, and winning only two games during that stretch.
Hockey at their home, the Omni, certainly had its moments. It had the Rebel, a superfan outfitted in Confederate garb, charging up and down the aisles waving a Confederate flag. It had the Painted Lady, a busty miss who'd squeeze into low-cut dresses, paint a flaming A across her ample bosom, and primp behind the opposition net during warm-ups. For a while it had the legendary Bernie "Boom Boom" Geoffrion — flamboyant, outspoken — as coach ("His voice," wrote one Atlanta sportswriter, was "like rich, thick French onion soup").
There were individual player highlights: two Calder Trophy winners in Eric Vail (1974–75) and Willi Plett (1975–76), a Lady Byng Memorial Trophy recipient in Bob MacMillan (1978–79), and a 50-goal scorer in Guy Chouinard (1978–79).
Hockey as a sport was as foreign to Atlanta as swimsuits to Alaska, but over their existence the Flames did develop a hard-core group of fans. The problem was that group wasn't nearly large enough, often enough. Attendance peaked in the team's second year, averaging 14,161 fans per game. But that number quickly began to erode. Relocation rumors surfaced as early as 1976, with players and local politicians buying season tickets to help stanch the bleeding.
"First," reminisced winger Tom Lysiak a decade after the move north (which eventually happened in 1980), "you'd get your Falcons and Braves season tickets. Then basketball. So we were fourth. If you had enough money and enough time, there we were."
In retrospect, general manager Cliff Fletcher felt three key factors worked against the team's viability: the location of the Omni, the size of the Omni, and a lack of revenue from a local TV deal. The absence of luxury suites in the area, becoming a huge money earner for teams housed in newer buildings, also didn't help. Neither did the lack of postseason success. "There was no urgency to be a winner," said Al MacNeil, the final coach in Atlanta Flames history.
In what would turn out to be their swan-song season in Atlanta, the team averaged only 10,024 fans per game. Owner Tom Cousins, rumored to have lost $12 million over the eight years of the franchise's existence, announced his intention to sell. In stepped two prominent Calgary businessmen, Doc and B. J. Seaman. They quickly enlisted another friend, Harley Hotchkiss. Working closely with Alberta premier Peter Lougheed and the provincial government, they began their quest. At the time, Calgary had its sights set on hosting the 1988 Winter Olympics. To do that, a new, state-of-the-art arena had to be built.
All the stars seemed to be in alignment. Then in stepped Vancouver-based wheeler-dealer Nelson Skalbania. Skalbania flew his daughter down to Atlanta and, using an up-front deal involving cash, scooped the Flames out from under the noses of the Calgary group for $16 million. Within a week after bringing a pair of business associates — Normie Kwong and Norm Green — on board, Skalbania, without the necessary cash to move forward properly and looking for quick payday, sold 49 percent of the team to the Calgary group. By July of the next year, the Calgary business consortium had it all.
Originally the ownership breakdown went this way: Hotchkiss, the Seaman brothers, Green, and ski hill operator Ralph Scurfield owned 18 percent apiece, and Kwong, a former Canadian Football League star, owned 10 percent. A solid, dedicated foundation. The Flames — as the Calgary Flames — were off and running.
For the players from Atlanta, forced to uproot, the relocation had to be jarring. What did they miss about Atlanta? "Well," reasoned rugged winger Plett, "the weather is nice [in Atlanta]. No silly snow to mess with."
"There was a lot of grumbling initially," recalled defenseman Paul Reinhart. "But I remember Alan Eagleson calling me and saying, 'Paul, give it a chance. This will be the best move you've ever made.'" Turns out, Eagleson was right. About this, at any rate.
Reinhart, like many of the Atlanta Flames, traveled to Calgary to begin the new chapter but would be gone when the team finally hit pay dirt.
For the franchise, though, the shift was a positive boon from the get-go. They were immediately accepted and adored by the Calgary community, playing in front of sellout crowds in first the tiny Corral and then the sumptuous Olympic Saddledome.
When the Flames finally lifted the Stanley Cup nine years after clearing out of the Deep South, the old-timers from Atlanta were watching. "Kinda like my ex-wife winning the lottery," is how center Curt Bennett, who retired the year the franchise moved, described the feeling. "Excited, but ..."
The Corral: First Home
It held only 8,700 souls. Each seat for each game cost $25. Such was the clamor to attend, standing-room-only places were all of 18 inches apart. The first year, 10,000 full- and part-time season tickets were sold. If ever a place epitomized the old supply-and-demand rule, the Calgary (now Stampede) Corral was it.
In 1980 the NHL arrived in southern Alberta with the Calgary Flames, and with it the chance to see Wayne Gretzky, Mike Bossy, Denis Potvin, Marcel Dionne, and the rest of the league's glittering stars playing for visiting teams. The outcry for tickets, predictably, was noisy and far-reaching.
When the Corral opened three decades earlier, in 1950, at the then- staggering cost of $1.25 million to replace the old Victoria Arena and house the Calgary Stampeders Pacific Coast League pro hockey club, it instantly became the largest arena west of Toronto. A litany of famous entertainers and acts — Duke Ellington, Bill Haley and the Comets, Fats Domino, Louis Armstrong — performed there over the years. By the time the Flames relocated from Atlanta and got around to tenancy, though, the onetime showpiece seemed outdated, cramped, a relic removed from another, distant time.
The Corral had already once been deemed insufficient by the NHL, in 1977, forcing the World Hockey Association Calgary Cowboys to fold rather than try to become part of the WHA-NHL merger that welcomed Winnipeg, Hartford, and Quebec City into the established circuit. But the International Olympic Committee had thrown Calgary and its NHL dreams a lifeline. Soon to be seen going up across the street from the Corral, on the Stampede Grounds — its shadow growing ever larger — was the Olympic Saddledome, a $97.7 million state-of-the-art arena tied to the city's successful bid for the 1988 Winter Olympic Games.
If in 1983 the Saddledome arrived with all the attending bells and whistles, its predecessor — the Corral — still possessed a unique, quirky charm. "It was barely adequate," remembered coach Al MacNeil. "The psychological thing was that everything was too small except the boards, which were four or five inches higher than any other building in the league.
"We had a big team. The other club looked at us and said, 'Well, we're going to get killed in here!' It kinda took the edge off their interest in playing that night."
Inside the cozy, claustrophobic — visiting teams might use the term oppressive — confines of the Corral, the Flames flourished. Over three seasons housed there, they compiled a rather impressive 66–28–26 record, including an amazing first-year record of 25–5–10.
"It was like a gladiator pit," recalled right winger Lanny McDonald, who scored many of his single-season franchise-record 66 goals there during the 1982–83 season, the year before the team move to the Saddledome. "You'd walk out from the dressing room right through the crowd, it seemed, and onto the ice. Just an amazing place to play. There was such a great atmosphere in that old barn."
The benches were small, narrow and, believe it or not, tiered. The boards, again, were higher than NHL standard. So high, joked winger Jim Peplinski, "Theoren Fleury never would've made the NHL playing in that building. He might've killed himself jumping from the bench onto the ice."
The Flames players of that era remember the experience fondly. Peplinski recalls signing so many autographs for one fan named Danny that the young man presented him with a bottle of English Leather cologne as a thank-you gift.
"Our dressing room was on the other side of the lobby, so at the end of every period and the beginning of every period, we'd have to walk through the crowd," recalled defenseman Bob Murdoch. "They had cardboard down on the floor so we didn't wreck the edges of our skates.
"If you played a horseshit game, fans were yelling and screaming at you. You go out for the warm-up, you come back. You go out for the first period, you come back. You're walking the gauntlet six times at night. And there was no hiding. Everybody had access to you while they were buying their hot dogs and popcorn."
Trainer Bearcat Murray's room had nothing more than a chair and training table. The Flames dressing room was Spartan, the size of a water closet. ("Just big enough," recalled Peplinski, "for Bobby MacMillan to have a smoke.") Four showers, one toilet, two urinals.
"Those boards," sighed Murray. "Rigid, about shoulder height. Guys that got hammered into those boards, it was like pushing them into a cement wall. Which it was, because the seats behind it were cement, right up against the boards. They had no give. Today, you can see boards rattling all the way down, one end to the other. I can remember there were a lot of injuries, mostly shoulder injuries, from that."
Excerpted from "100 Things Flames Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die"
Copyright © 2017 George Johnson.
Excerpted by permission of Triumph Books LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Foreword Theo Fleury ix
1 May 25, 1989 1
2 The Move North 4
3 The Corral: First Home 7
4 Beating Philly 11
5 Something…Missing 14
6 The Magic Man 17
7 Badger Bob 20
8 Like Oil and Water 23
9 The Silver Fox 26
10 The 50-Goal Swede 29
11 "It's Eva, Darning…" 32
12 Lanny 34
13 The Shot 38
14 The Kid from the Kitchen 42
15 The Ol' Potlicker 45
16 The Great White Shark 48
17 Hometown Hero 50
18 The "So-Called Slump" 54
19 The Best Deadline-Day Deal 57
20 The Most Famous Goal 60
21 "Thank You. Flames" 63
22 That's Suter, Not Sutter 67
23 Gretzky's Rash 71
24 The Mario All-Star Game 74
25 Joe Who? (Naturally) 76
26 Snowstorm in Jersey 79
27 He Ain't Nothin' but a Hound Dog 82
28 "In His Own Little World" 86
29 Theo Sound Bites 89
30 Crispie 93
31 Beast 96
32 Killer 99
33 Tim Hunter: Tough Guy 102
34 Paul Bunyan from Bemidji 106
35 The Toughest Series 109
36 Sealed with a Kiss 112
37 Ready to Win 114
36 Pep 116
39 A Soviet Legend 119
40 The Friendship Tour 123
41 "Yeah, Baby!" 126
42 The Battle 129
43 Battle Quotes 132
44 The Dynasty Dies 137
45 The Risebrough Era 141
46 Trading Gilmour 144
47 Gary Roberts 147
48 Harley Hotchkiss 150
49 Top 10 Individual Seasons 153
50 A Dozen Defining Deals 156
51 Top 10 Drafts 160
52 The Epic Series 162
53 Toon Time 165
54 Those Fickle Hockey Gods 167
55 Trading Joe 170
56 Iginla: The Greatest Flame 173
57 The Age of Austerity 177
58 Two That Got Away 180
59 "It's Not the Size of the Bull…" 183
60 "Hello, Hockey Fans" 186
61 Coatesy 189
62 Trivia Time 192
63 Draft Disappointments 196
64 Pssst! Santa's a Flames Fan. Pass It On 199
65 Giving Back 201
66 Land of the Rising Sun 203
67 Young Guns 206
68 Ultimatum 208
69 Ten Memorable Goals 211
70 Hall Monitoring 213
71 Hart Breaker 215
72 By the Numbers 218
73 All-Time All-Stars 222
74 Mr. Popularity 225
75 All Ducks on Deck! 228
76 Rockin' Red Socks 230
77 Darryl 233
78 The Tunnel of Death 237
79 Kipper 240
80 The 2004 Run 243
81 OT Hero 246
82 The Heritage Classic 250
83 Dealing Dion 253
84 Family Ties 256
85 Iginla Exits 259
86 Iginla Returns 261
87 The Flood of 2013 263
88 Gio 265
89 Sean Monahan 269
90 Burke 272
91 Remembering Monty 275
92 Johnny Hockey 278
93 Take the Tour 282
94 Bob Hartley: Populist 284
95 The New Architect 288
96 Renaissance 291
97 The Big League Experience and Then Some 293
98 Red Mile Revived 296
99 CalgaryNEXT 299
100 Where Are They Now? 302
About the Author 309