August 08, 2010
(Ed. Note: Puck Daddy's August series, "Mount Puckmore" features fans, bloggers and various media personalities of all 30 teams choosing the four defining faces of their franchise. These four people are who you remember most when you think of these teams -- whether they be players, coaches or executives. We'll be running these daily for the rest of the month. Today, representing the Calgary Flames, Hayley Mutch of Matchsticks and Gasoline.)
By Hayley Mutch of Matchsticks and Gasoline
Last season marked the Calgary Flames' 30th anniversary; and as a fairly young, small-market franchise whose best years thus far unfortunately seem to be in the rear view mirror, I didn't anticipate the difficulty in selecting the four people that really left their mark -- good or bad -- on the team's history.
After relocating to Calgary from Atlanta in 1980, the Flames' best teams were so good that separating the cream of the crop from groups that included Lanny MacDonald, Al MacInnis, Theo Fleury(notes), Hakan Loob, Kent Nilsson and Joe Nieuwendyk (amongst others) is a difficult task. Their worst teams were not quite bad enough to remain prominently in one's memory.
While struggling to transform their regular-season success into playoff victories in the years following their inception, the Flames captured two Presidents' Trophies and made two trips to the Stanley Cup finals during the latter half of the first decade of their existence in Calgary, becoming the first relocated team to win the Stanley Cup in 1989. Financial constraints then forced the organization to part ways with many of its best players throughout the 1990s, spurring on the highly unsuccessful "Young Guns" era.
The Flames went on to miss the playoffs for seven consecutive seasons until Darryl Sutter's 2003-04 squad of tough-as-nails vets and role players -- led by Miikka Kiprusoff's(notes) sparkling 1.69 GAA, Jarome Iginla's(notes) 13 goals, and Martin "The Eliminator" Gelinas -- knocked off three division champions en route to a heartbreaking loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final. Despite a reinvigorated fan base as a result of that spring and the fact that the Flames have finished with 90-plus points in each of the five seasons since, no iteration of the team has been as dominant as those of the mid-to-late 1980s (a very depressing fact for someone born in 1990 such as myself).
So without further ado, here are the four faces of Calgary's Mount Puckmore ...
Cliff Fletcher, General Manager 1980-91
The most accomplished general manager and certainly one of the most notable executives in Flames history dating back to their Atlanta days, Cliff Fletcher was instrumental in the Flames' move to Calgary and did what few GMs could in the 1980s: built a team capable of competing with the Oilers, setting up the legendary Battle of Alberta that raged on at its strongest throughout the decade.
Fletcher was an innovator in the scouting arena, as the Flames became one of the first teams to make a habit of drafting and signing players coming out of the NCAA ranks and players from Europe and the Soviet Union. Gary Suter, Joel Otto, Joe Mullen, Joe Nieuwendyk, Hakan Loob and Sergei Makarov are just some of the players he acquired or drafted that turned into major difference-makers for the Flames.
Fletcher wasn't a wallflower when it came to making deals either; he traded for some of the key contributors to the Flames' run of dominance during the mid-to-late eighties, culminating in their lone Stanley Cup victory in 1989; acquiring Doug Gilmour and Lanny MacDonald, and sending future Hall of Famer Brett Hull to the St. Louis Blues. That trend would continue when he moved on to the Maple Leafs in 1991 and pilfered Gilmour from his former club in one of the most notoriously lopsided deals in Flames history.
The Flames certainly wouldn't have enjoyed the early successes they did if it weren't for Fletcher's continued efforts to maintain a contending team.
Mike Vernon, G
I struggled slightly with Vernon's inclusion on this list because, considering the skill level of some of the Flames' best teams, it might not have mattered who was in goal for them -- but Vernon was a key piece to the puzzle nonetheless. The only goalie drafted by the Flames to really accomplish anything of note in the NHL thus far -- and likely the only one that can really be considered a "franchise goalie" (sorry Kipper) -- Vernon, born and raised in Calgary, spent 14 seasons with the Flames and had his number retired by the organization in 2007.
He holds franchise records for most games played a goaltender (526), most wins (262), most playoff games played by a goaltender (81), and most playoff wins (43), but his most memorable moment in a Flames jersey would come in Game 7 of Calgary's 1989 first-round series against the Vancouver Canucks when he stymied Stan Smyl on a breakaway attempt in overtime, preserving the tie until Joel Otto scored the winner.
Of course, after Vernon's first go-around with the Flames ended and he moved on to the Detroit Red Wings, he was most famous for dropping the mitts with Patrick Roy.
Vernon is currently awaiting induction into the Hockey Hall of Fame, which he has been eligible for since 2005, and has the most career wins of any eligible goalie not inducted.
Theoren Fleury, RW
Theo Fleury and the Flames were synonymous for many fans during, and after, his time in Calgary.
Originally drafted in the eighth round for the purpose of drawing crowds to the Flames' farm team in Salt Lake City, Fleury quickly ascended to the NHL, scoring 14 goals and 34 points in 36 games with the Flames in '89 before going on to help the team capture the Stanley Cup that spring.
Known as "The Little Big Man," Fleury's style of play enraged opponents and occasionally his own teammates. A constant competitor, he never hesitated to get involved in the physical side of the game; whether defending himself, a teammate, or just trying to give his team an edge. Although he sometimes paid dearly for it as Marty McSorely's punching bag, he had the skills to back it up.
Fleury accumulated upwards of 100 penalty minutes all but three seasons with the Flames, and his speed and skill with the puck went unmatched. Theo breached the 50-goal mark only once in his career, in 1990-91 when he scored 51 goals and 104 points, which was also the year he scored the winner in Game 6 of the Flames' semifinal series against Edmonton, eluding Mark Messier on a semi-breakaway before slipping the puck through Fuhr's five hole and celebrating by sliding across centre ice on his knees before being mobbed by his teammates -- probably the most famous clip involving Fleury after the Punch-Up In Piestany.
Fleury surpassed Al MacInnis as the franchise scoring leader with 823 points in 1999 before being traded to the Colorado Avalanche when the Flames could no longer afford to retain his services. One of the game's most colourful characters on and off the ice, Fleury is more famous these days for his struggles with substance abuse and his ongoing battle with former junior coach Graham James, who allegedly sexually abused Fleury and several other players as teens, but he will always remain one of the most well-liked players to don a Flames jersey -- as proved by the fanfare generated by his short-lived comeback attempt during last year's preseason, after which he officially retired as a Flame.
Jarome Iginla, RW
When Iginla came to the Flames as an 18-year-old in a 1995 trade with the Dallas Stars, I'm not sure how many people would have predicted the impact he would have on the Flames, the city of Calgary and the game of hockey as a whole.
Iggy led all rookies in 1996-97 with 50 points and five years later, had an Olympic gold medal, his first 50-goal season, a scoring title and a reputation as one of the best players in the game to his name. The six years that followed were probably the best of his career. Jarome punished the opposition -- more often than not the other team's best -- with his skill and his strength, and the sight of him forcing his way to the front of the net through a slew of defenders or releasing his trademark snap shot from the top of the right faceoff circle became a familiar one for fans and foes alike.
Iginla finished atop the league in goals again in 2003-04 after being named Captain to start the season; that spring, his 13 goals and 22 points in 26 games led the Flames in playoff scoring, as the club made their first post season appearance in seven years and came within one victory of winning their second Stanley Cup, spawning that awful "what's the difference between the Calgary Flames and a bra?" joke.
Iggy finished the season with 90-plus points twice more, including his second 50-goal season and career-best 98 points in 2007-08, during which he broke the franchise record for goals (364) previously held by Theo Fleury. Between 1998 and 2008, only Jaromir Jagr scored more goals than Jarome Iginla, a feat which becomes even more impressive considering he often did so without a lot of assistance from his teammates.
Despite scoring his 400th career goal and surpassing another of Fleury's records with his 831st point, 2008-09 marked the beginning of something of a decline for Iginla. His 32 goals this past season was his lowest total in nine years and his 69 points, his lowest since 2005-06, and he just seemed to lack some of the competitive fire that Flames fans had become accustomed to, spurring speculation that the Captain was battling injury. The Flames as a whole struggled to find offence last season, finishing second-last in the league in scoring; but, taken in conjunction with his sub-par season, Iginla shouldered much of the blame, to the point where there was speculation that the longest-serving Flame could be traded.
Off the ice, Iggy is well known for his friendly and approachable demeanor as well as his generous humanitarian contributions. He founded the Jarome Iginla Hockey School which he operates every summer with former Canadian Olympian turned HNIC commentator Cassie Campbell and donated $2,000 for every goal he scored to KidSport, a non-profit organization that helps disadvantaged kids get involved in organized sports, from 2005 until 2008.
There is no doubt in any Flames fans' mind that Jarome Iginla is the face of this franchise and will be for quite some time, even if he never captures that elusive Stanley Cup in a Flames uniform. The day he hangs up the skates will be a sad one for the Flames organization and the NHL.
Mount Puckmore photo by B.D. Gallof of HockeyIndependent