By Kent Wilson
There are a number of strong contenders in the pages of Flames history for defining player. Al MacInnis, Mike Vernon, Doug Gilmour - perhaps the most iconic member of Calgary's lone cup championship team is Lanny McDonald because of his unmistakable mustache. A case could also be made for Theoren Fleury, one of the greatest single talents and certainly the most compelling personal story to ever go through Calgary.
In the end, it comes down to Jarome Iginla however.
The Flames captain began his career in Calgary at 19 after being acquired from the Stars for Joe Nieuwendyk. He has since established Flames records in a several categories, lead the team in scoring for a decade, won a couple of gold medals and numerous all-star appearances.
Iginla turned 35 this year and the only questions remaining for him is whether he'll win a cup and/or retire a Flame. Unfortunately, with the team trending downwards, those are likely mutual exclusive outcomes.
Whatever happens, Iginla will go down as the best Flame ever and will forever be associated with the city and organization.
As mentioned, the Flames have only won one championship - back in 1989. That year, they lead the NHL in points during the regular season, only slightly ahead of the Montreal Canadiens whom they would eventually meet, and beat, in the finals. That season remains the lone pinnacle in a history that sports a lot of plains and valleys for the Calgary fan base. It contained many of the best players the org has ever seen and boasted some its greatest moments.
It's easy to go with Game 6 in Montreal given my answer above, but instead I'll pick Calgary's more recent Game 7 victory over Vancouver in Round 1, 2004. That contest featured more drama, intensity and pageantry than probably the Flames last two seasons combined.
After wandering the desert for what seemed like an eternity, Calgary had finally clawed its way back into the post-season and was the underdog against the highly favored (and equally hated) Vancouver Canucks (a team featuring both Todd Bertuzzi and Matt Cooke).
It's not only that Calgary won, and unexpectedly beat a despised rival, that makes this game a defining moment in the club's lexicon: It's also how they won. Jarome Iginla was an unstoppable force, scoring two goals in regulation to stake Calgary to a 2-1 lead. Kiprsuoff was seemingly unbeatable. And then, in a final rush up the ice, Matt Cooke seemed to put a dagger in the heart of the Flame uprising by scoring to tie things with about a dozen seconds left.
Which made the ultimate victory all the sweeter. Martin Gelinas scored almost immediately in the extra frame, birthing the Flames uncanny run to the finals that year, as well as Calgary's iconic Red Mile and a new era of hope and fandom in the city.
There are at least three or four markers that spring to mind from the Flames 2004 run, including Gelinas three series winners. The OT goal that finished Detroit still gives me goose bumps to watch today, for instance. Lanny McDondald's goal in Game 6 versus Montreal is a great image as well.
Theoren Fleury's OT game winner/backslide celebration probably takes it for me though. Calgary didn't end up winning that series against the Oilers, but its one of the best single highlights perhaps in hockey, let alone in Flames history.
(I'd be remiss if I didn't include Steve Smith's own goal here. For every Flames fan who recalls that famous/infamous marker, it still brings belly laughs).
Younger hockey fans probably consider the Dion Phaneuf for Maple Leafs flotsam trade as the worst in the club's history, but in fact that dishonor probably still goes to Doug Gilmour for Gary Leeman. There were many more parts to that swap, but that was the guts of it.
I was only a kid when that trade occurred, but I can still clearly remember sitting in my parents minivan, listening to the trade announcement over the radio and gasping in horror - not just because the team had just traded the guy who scored the cup winning goal(s), but because the deal was so very obviously a bad one. Even to a no-nothing kid sitting in a car.
That trade, made in 1992, has seemingly haunted the team ever since. Calgary has only made it past the first round once (2004) in the intervening years.
Harley Hotchkiss was one of the most influential business and hockey men in Calgary, if not the league. He was amongst the initial ownership group who brought the Flames to Calgary from Atlanta and was involved in some capacity with Flames management for nearly its entire history until he died in 2011. A tireless philanthropist he was also had a hand in bringing the Olympics to Calgary in 1988.
His death was a big loss to the team and city in general.
Related to the trade question, for GM Doug Risebrough still causes Flames faithful who remember him to scowl or spit on the ground in disgust. More recently, Darryl Sutter's descent into madness as the club's GM turned him from messiah to pariah.
There have been a lot of doozies over the years between the Flames and Oilers, so it's hard to pick one out of the golden era of the Battle of Alberta. Calgary also engaged in one of the last bench clearing brawls with the Anaheim Ducks before the lock-out.
My favorite is probably Jarome Iginla versus Willie Mitchell however:
Jarome gets in trouble to start the bout, but recovers enough to one-punch Mitchell down to his knees and essentially end the fight.
Badger Bob Johnson was one of best, most likable coaches for the Flames and the league. He lead the club to its first finals appearance in 1986. Of course, the fiery Terry Crisp was behind the bench when Calgary won it all in 1989.
Overall, Darryl Sutter might be Calgary's most memorable coach. Although he eventually lost the plot as an executive in Calgary, there's no arguing his credentials and effectiveness as a bench boss. For a couple of years he galvanized a motley collection of guys and made them one of the more feared clubs to face in the league.
Ed Whalen retired in 1999 and died in 2001, but his distinctive voice and personal catch phrases ("Hello Hockey Fans!") still stand as some of the best and most recognizable in Flames history.
Calgary is also lucky to have hall of fame broadcaster Peter Maher. The "voice" of the team, Maher has provided radio play-by-play just about every Flames game since the team landed in Calgary in 1980.
"Heroin beer" is the unofficial name of the Domes' draft brew because the stuff seemingly gets even the biggest guy or most seasoned booze hound drunk after only a few cups.
The Flames have a lot of jerseys through the years - white away silks or weird black alternatives featuring a snorting horsehead.
Of course, the must-have swag is either the modern deep-red home jersey or the classic, vintage away red of the 1980's.
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