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Me and The Flames: A Passion Sparked by Mike Vernon

Mike Vernon sparked my interest in goaltenders and my love for the Calgary Flames.

I grew up in Saskatchewan, where it was winter pretty much half of the year. It wasn't like the mild Alberta winters I am being spoiled with now either. It was damn cold...nearly every day, and the amounts of snow was just ridiculous. Of course it was right in the middle of the good old flatland prairies too so there was a good chance of a blistering wind howling with the bitter cold. It didn't matter. My family and friends would still go out and play the best game on the planet. The only good thing about the bitter conditions is when you got a slash on the shin, you didn't feel a thing. We would go out and play for hours. Then when the sun dipped below the horizon it was "next goal wins". Most kids these days will never get it or do it.

Calgary, Alberta was a bustling destination in the winter of 1988. After all, the 1988 Winter Olympics were being held in Calgary that winter. I remember it because my family was in town visiting my Grandma who had lived in Calgary pretty much her entire life, or at least as much as I remember. I remember sitting at the kitchen table and using drinking glasses to trace the Olympic rings on a sheet of paper. I also remember all the adults in the other room, watching the Calgary Flames on television.

It was January 25th, 1988 and the Flames were in Toronto playing the Maple Leafs. I don't recall exactly when I started watching the game but I do recall Mike Vernon was playing and making some pretty good saves. I remember clearly the call of the announcer repeating Mike Vernon's name time and time again. Seemed like that's all they were talking about. Just a month earlier I actually went to my first Flames game, but it wasn't until this night I became a huge fan. The Flames beat the Leafs 11-3 and were led by Brett Hull, Mike Bullard and John Tonelli each scoring 4 points.

I tried watching more and more games after that, and some time later my Grandma sent me a whole bunch of Flames stuff. I got a jersey with my name on it, some hockey cards, a pencil & eraser set and a pennant with all the players autographs on it. Upon further investigation I learned that they were not the real players' autographs, mainly because Joe Nieuwendyk's name was spelled "Newendyk", and the fact that his name isn't even recognizable in his autograph.

Never-the-less I was a big fan. I watched games, hung posters in my room, collected hockey cards, wore my jersey, and even made myself a custom goalie mask out of plaster of paris in art class. I watched them win the Stanley Cup in 1989 on the sacred ice of the old Montreal Forum beating Patrick Roy and the Montreal Canadiens. Below is the one save that always sticks out in my mind when I think about Mike Vernon and the 1989 Stanley Cup, robbing the Vancouver Canucks' Stan Smyl.

After that I watched them trade away every star player they had, wondering what the hell they were doing. By the 1996-97 season, there wasn't much left of the Stanley Cup winning roster. Theoren Fleury and maybe one or two more names. But the new face of the franchise appeared in that season's roster.

Now I began watching the team rebuild, starting with Jarome Iginla and then acquiring players like Craig Conroy, Martin Gelinas, Robyn Regehr and of course Miikka Kiprusoff. The Calgary Flames were once again a force to recon with like they were back in the 80's. I watched them once again reach the Stanley Cup Final, only to be cheated out of the cup-winning goal off the stick of Marty Gelinas. "It was in" became a household tagline for the next few seasons, and still can be heard now and then to this day. They lost that Stanley Cup Final to the Tampa Bay Lightning, but in the process revitalized the hopes and dreams of Flames fans everywhere.

Since the 2004 cup run, things have been a roller-coaster ride for the most part, only making the playoffs five seasons out of eleven and only winning one playoff series. That's not to say things haven't been exciting. We have one of the most exciting teams to watch again, with guys like Johnny, Mony, Ragin Stajan, Backs and Bennett, and being led by Captain Gio. If you are a real fan, you will know who those guys are. If you are asking what a Mony is, then you will never understand.