Karri Ramo wore it after his first win of the 2013-14 NHL season, a 27-save effort propelling the Calgary Flames over the Los Angeles Kings. It sat awkwardly atop his head, looking like a colander with his stringy hair descending like cooked spaghetti.
But he wore it proudly. Because he earned it. And because it means something to both his team and the real heroes in its community.
This season, the Flames are handing out a fire helmet, given to them by the Calgary Fire Department, to the “hardest-working player” at the end of each game.
The department gifted it to the team and had it painted red and yellow, airbrushing a sillouetted image of firefighters on one side and hockey players on the other -- shadows of each other.
The fire department’s initials are on the front; the Flames’ logo is on the back.
“The philosophy in coaching between the fire department and sports teams is not that far apart,” said Calgary fire chief Bruce Burrell. “We think it’s all about team camaraderie and professionalism.”
Burrell met the Flames earlier this season during a team-building exercise with the fire department.
“The first connection with 'Flames' is fire. Police, firefighters … to me, they’re the ultimate people,” said coach Bob Hartley. “They put their lives on the line every day. They’re teaching us about teamwork, and lessons of life.”
Burrell said he was impressed with the Flames’ firefighting prowess; but, alas, he couldn’t add any of those rookies to the firehouse.
“I can’t afford them” he joked, “my salary cap’s lower.”
Instead, he offered to donate a helmet -- un-used, so it could be airbrushed -- to the team.
The Flames have had a legacy of postgame headgear handed to players, like the green hardhat the team wore during its run to the Stanley Cup Final in 2004. It’s all about honoring hard work and blue-collar heroism, or at least the appearance of either.
As symbols go, a firefighter’s helmet is the epitome of selfless sacrifice and putting it all on the line for the person next to you.
While the stakes are dramatically different, Burrell said he sees similarities between the Flames and those who fight them in Calgary.
“We think our values are consistent with their values,” he said. “We’re proud to be able to support them in some small way.”