Me and the Flames
On May 25, 1989 I was four years old. This is important for two reasons: my single mother and my aunt, who were room mates at the time, let me stay up late for the first time that I can ever remember. And the Flames won their first and only Stanley Cup. I got to watch my early heroes win the Holy Grail of Hockey on a small tube television in the late hours that Thursday night and parade it around the old Montreal Forum ice.
My fandom of the Flames was cemented in that moment.
The following year the Oilers would win another Cup and I would have to sit through my cousin, and best friend, constantly talk about how great his team was and how they were the best but my love of the Flames never waivered. What I'll always remember is how my cousin would clam right up when we would take trips to my grandmothers house, in Cochrane, just outside of Calgary. He was in enemy territory and he knew it.
Even through the dark ages, the Young Guns era, where the low Canadian dollar saw all of the Flames' star players shipped out of town for bigger better contracts, I was still a fan. All throughout that time my favorite player was Theoren Fleury. When I would go to the outdoor rinks in my neighborhood, I always wore number 14. He was small. I was a small kid, but he was skilled and he didn't take any guff from anyone.
Growing up, my family was a poor family and couldn't afford minor hockey so I lived on the neighborhood rinks in the winter. I didn't even have a helmet until I was old enough to buy it myself. In some ways I was the quintessential Canadian kid. Just like the five dollar bill says, my life was spent between school, church, and the rink. The rink is where I really lived. All the while I just played.
My interest in the Flames, and professional hockey in general, briefly waned during the Young Guns era. My last hero from that Cup team was traded for some "who?" player named Jarome Iginla. I didn't see a lot of his early games, but what I did see was his 52 goal season. I watched him grow as a player and I saw him, along with the magnificent Kiprosoff, drag that team into the playoffs in 2003-2004 with their lunch pail attitude.
After years of suffering the barbs of friends that were fans of much better teams (Colorado Avalanche fans, I'm looking at you), the Flames were poised to win another Cup in 2004 (it was in, by the way). I will admit that while the previous playoff-less years did somewhat diminish my childhood enthusiasm for the Flames, the 2004 run replenished it tenfold.
Now, when I would go to the neighborhood outdoor rink, of which there is only 3 where there used to be 20 (that's a story for another time), I wear my number 12 Iginla jersey which one of my best friends gave me as a going away present when I moved to the east coast. Iginla was never a defenseman, but my greatest skill as a pick up player was my ability to skate backwards, which I attribute to my mom putting me in figure skating lessons instead of hockey because it wasn't as cost prohibitive. I also possess a pretty decent understanding of angling a player into the boards and off the puck. But it doesn't matter, I was playing hockey with completely new players on outdoor rinks.
Most of the players I played with were either Montreal or Boston fans. But I played with my Iginla jersey and I flew those colors proudly. I'd go to a pick up game and hear things like "whose gonna pick the red guy?" It didn't matter, I was wearing my Flames jersey. I wanted to play and I wanted to play well. Those pick up games in my early 20s were some of the best times I've ever had on the ice.
When I wore that Flames jersey and I played, I played hard in the corners, I was, I'll admit, a bit of a jerk. But at that time that was Sutter hockey, that was Flames hockey. And as soon as I put that jersey on, I was a Flame. And God forbid you from letting me repesent that jersey properly.
Later on I moved back to Alberta. I found a rink that hosted regular pick up games. I found a group of people that, no matter how good or poor you are at the game, everyone has a place, and everyone can play.
Now, I'm leaving my athletic prime, when I go out and skate I feel it for the next week. I still wear the Iginla jersey and I'm still very good at skating backwards and angling. But my passsion for this game and this team wouldn't have been ignited if not for that one night way back in 1989 when my mom let me stay up late to watch the Flames win the Stanley Cup in the old Montreal Forum.
When I strap on those skates, pick up a stick and just go and play? That week of pain is worth it. Because I wore my Flames Iginla jersey and for that brief moment, I was a Flame.
That's what the Flames mean to me.