“When there is nothing left, there is nothing left,” said old school coach Sutter, when his team lost the Championship in 2004. “The only thing left to do is cry.”
The most popular sport in Canada is ice hockey.
Non-fans of hockey can be excused for not understanding. With playoff beards and weapons, players look like extras from Lord of the Rings. It seems closer to scripted professional wrestling than legitimate sport.
The biggest prize is the Stanley Cup. In the final in 2004 were two unlikely teams:
1) Tampa Bay Lightning
- 3 years ago last overall in the league of 30 teams
- hockey in Florida? Jamaican Bobsled Team!
- once named the worst franchise in professional sports
- local paper (Tampa Tribune) ran an editorial on why the team lost the championship, the morning after they won. Oops.
2) Calgary Flames
- Las Vegas odds were 100-1 against winning the Stanley Cup
- missed the play-offs previous 7 years in series
Calgary brought in a warrior — Chris Simon — to bolster our team for the finals. Big, fierce, a physical menace. Some criticized Calgary for dirty play. Not true, in my opinion.
Hockey is not nearly as bad as it looks, by the way. Rugby is much tougher and more dangerous. (I say that despite my father being blinded in one eye while playing hockey.)
I lived a year in Christchurch New Zealand. The fans there, I must declare, are more zealous even than Calgarians. The Crusaders dominated Super 12 Rugby that season.
This is Lightning Martin St. Louis — the top player in 2004 — in the final moments of clinching the championships. Many supporting my team, Calgary, felt we should not be penalized for the high stick which cut his face.
We were penalized and we lost the championship.
The agony of defeat.
The Flames in their home town have been lovable losers since last winning the Stanley Cup in 1989. I was a big fan back then. I loved hockey then.
This year was far, far better.
Flames fans were happy just to make the play-offs this season. There was no expectation that they do more than bow out gracefully in the first round.
How did we come 2 goals short of winning it all?
Ice hockey in the play-offs is low scoring, like soccer. Good defense can beat good offense.
A hot goalie can carry a team. We had Mikka Kiprusoff. Amazing! He was the third string goalie for another team (who he beat in the play-offs) & had no profile before arriving in Calgary.
We dispatched the star studded Detroit Red Wings (twice the payroll of the Flames) who had the best record in the league this season. Once a powerhouse, their days are over. Good-bye Brett.
Calgary has one superstar, twice the top scorer in the league. Perhaps the best all-around player in the world right now.
I am old enough to have learned not to have celebrity professional sport heros. Jarome Iginla is my hero. The first since Michael Jordan. He was named Sports Illustrated Player of the Year.
At its best, professional sport can bring people together, inspire people to fitness and setting high goals. To dream. To hope. The Flames did that.
I love sport for the delicious uncertainty of outcome. You never know. It was fun.
I can hardly wait for the Olympics.
The city of Calgary rallied round the team in unexpected and spontaneous ways. Twenty, then thirty, then fifty thousand people mobbed a street quickly dubbed the Red Mile. Fan support rivaled the play of the team as the lead news story.
I cycled the Red Mile more than once and attended the (city council orchestrated) year end rally. Another 30 thousand fans downtown a few blocks from my apartment.
That was the rallying cry.
I followed the play-offs closely but did not believe we could win … until the final series. By then I was convinced. And as deflated and disbelieving as everyone else when we lost.
It was emotional. A roller coaster. Ups and downs.
And a relief when it finally ended after 2 months. I had play-off fatigue.
An interesting sidebar is buffoon colour commentator Don Cherry, a throwback to the bad old days of hockey. Often controversial, sometimes entertaining, sometimes (surprisingly) even right-on. He is unique. This might have been his last season. I will miss him.
Has anything else happened over the past 2 months?
Summer is coming. Trust you are well.
Flames Fan Rick