The three words that will forever leap to this Calgarian’s mind when reminiscing about the spring of 2004. As an avid hockey fan (and Flames season ticket holder) I have watched this past NHL season unfold with a great deal of interest.
From my regular seat high above ice-level I have watched a group of Sutter-esque warriors evolve from a cast of unknowns to one of the most formidable opponents in the league.
It didn’t happen overnight. It was a calculated, season-long transformation that nearly culminated in a Stanley Cup championship for this deserving, hockey-crazed city.
As I write this, the heart-breaking loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup finals still stings horribly. It undoubtedly will for some time to come. The Flames’ improbable two-month long run to the Cup was an exhilarating roller coaster ride for the players and fans alike.
Sadly, this fairy tale Cup run ended in heartache with the Flames bowing out to the Lightning in the seventh and deciding game. Throughout the 2003/2004 season I missed nary a game. Unfortunately, the final game of the Flames’ run to the Cup was one I was unable to watch in its entirety. It coincided with the KRW business press awards dinner at which Truck West and Motortruck were up for awards.
Truck West was gracious enough to fly me into Toronto for the event. At the time we made the arrangements, who knew the Flames would be playing hockey in June?
The dinner was fantastic, but admittedly my mind was pre-occupied with the more important prize being played for about 2,000 kilometres to the south.
The nearest television was seemingly equally far away, and I had to rely on updates via cell phone.
I did, however, manage to catch the third period at a nearby relative’s house following the dinner. I managed to catch Craig Conroy’s beautiful late-game goal on a seeing-eye blast from the point.
I managed to catch Jordan Leopold’s shot at the wide open net in the dying moments which somehow just couldn’t find the back of the net.
I managed to see Kerry Fraser’s late game…oh, don’t get me started about Fraser!
As the buzzer sounded, I had to make a hasty exit from my relative’s house for fear of getting choked up as the Tampa players paraded the Cup around the ice in front of a battle-worn and injury-depleted Flames squad.
I returned to my hotel room, where earlier I had stashed a bottle of champagne in an overfilled ice bucket in anticipation of celebrating a Stanley Cup victory.
Predictably, by the time I returned there, the ice had all melted and so had our dreams of welcoming Stanley home to Canada.
Nevertheless, I turned on the TV and tuned into TSN where the ever-eloquent Jarome Iginla was struggling to find the right words to express his disappointment.
Then, I poured a glass of warm champagne and gave a toast to one of the most remarkable hockey teams to ever dawn the Flaming C.
It was a fantastic run – one that I’ll always remember.
Yes, this storybook drive to the Cup Finals deserved a better ending, but the Flames exceeded all expectations.
They may not be Cup champions but they did an entire nation proud by coming … oh, so close.