Flames in eight? – a postmortem

Friday, 18 June 2004 — 8:02am

It has been a week and a half since the Flames snuffed themselves out in the first forty minutes of a rather disappointing Game 7 prior to a brief and hopeful rekindling in what Stompin’ Tom calls the “third period – last game of the playoffs, too.” As much as it would be my pleasure to discuss whether or not Flames culture has at all subsided in Calgary, an empirical observation is hardly possible from my current vantage point, which – as one of the case studies demonstrating the success of British imperialism – is swept up in the fury of a sporting event consisting of a 2-1 upset of a somewhat different nature. Replace Fedotenko with Zidane and you’ve got it, only one match was recoverable and the other is not.

I’ll say this much, though: despite the lack of the Stanley Cup victory we all thought we saw coming by the time Calgary coasted right by San José – we, a people spoiled by the archetypes of Cinderella stories only to forget that our dear girl in the glass slippers, too, fell victim to a most unwelcome stroke of midnight – the hometown team deserves some thanks, and this here writer deserves a slap on the wrist for making fun of them for not being a real team all these years. The 2004 Calgary Flames experience was a cultural phenomenon that showed up no less than the Heritage Classic as the once-in-a-lifetime moment for a generation of hockey fans. Several years from now, if the Flames or any other Canadian team does this well or even takes home Lord Stanley’s prize itself, it would be a difficult proposition to replicate the kind of mania that swept Calgary from April to June.

The new red-background home jerseys flew off the racks at shopping malls in every corner of the city. Schools displayed a “Go Flames Go” on their boards next to announcements for graduation events that many students were known to skip on account of having game tickets. A daily commute to and from a nearby workplace revealed Flames flags to number in the hundreds – most on cars, some on houses, others on flagpoles. Schools displayed a “Go Flames Go” on their boards next to announcements for graduation events that many students were known to skip on account of having game tickets. Advertisers and sponsors from across the country changed or replaced radio and television commercials to cheer on the team. In rival city Edmonton itself, one saw not only the occasional car flag, but an Anglican church declaring: “Jesus said we should pray for our enemies. Go Flames Go.” The Flames arrived home to a congratulatory celebration that filled a one-block radius around Olympic Plaza with an attendance rivaling the parades in Tampa.

These past two months did more than unite hockey fans. It made them. If the Flames emulate the pattern they set in 1986 and take the Cup in a dramatic rematch three years from now, there will be the euphoria of victory, but not the novelty and relief of finally getting everything right after an eight-to-fourteen-year drought that disillusioned all but the most faithful. Well, everything except the game that matters to the almanac editors.

Thank you, Calgary Flames. You did our city proud.

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