When you think of the Calgary Flames, you probably think of Jarome Iginla, the legendary right winger who’s the franchise’s all-time leading scorer, and undoubtedly the best black hockey player to ever lace up a pair of CCMs. Or maybe Miikka Kiprusoff, the goalie who set a modern-day NHL record for lowest goals against average in leading the Flames to the finals in ’04. Unfortunately, while I’ve had the opportunity to purchase either of their sweaters, my Flames jersey ownership has been much less illustrious.
Back in my day, my folks had friends with season’s tickets, and right at the end of the forgettable ’99-’00 season, they gave away their seats to “Fan Appreciation Nite”–the last game of the season–to my dad, my brother and I. The game itself wasn’t pretty, as the Flames were stonewalled by some third-string goalie that playoff-bound Edmonton had called up for the occasion–and to make matters worse, we were surrounded by drunken, rowdy Oilers fans who kept asking who we’d be cheering for in the playoffs. (My response? The Dallas Stars–the team that knocked Edmonton out of the playoffs every year, including 2000.) If there was one plus-side to this horrendous situation, it was that all merchandise at the Flames FanAttic, including player jerseys, was deeply discounted, this being their last chance to really move some product. Therefore I decided to purchase my first Flames jersey with a player’s name and number on the back.
Although the Flames’ Young Guns lineup was truly craptacular, they had two rising stars that shined brighter than the rest: Iginla, who finished second in goals and points that year to Mr. DJ Tanner, and Marc Savard, a promising centreman who came on strong in the last month of the season to tally 22 goals and 31 assists–good for fourth on the team. So, whose jersey did I end up buying? Marc freakin’ Savard’s!
Man, I had that sweater for a good 10 years, though I didn’t start wearing it on the reg until the team stopped sucking. When buying my groceries one day, long after I moved to Toronto (it woulda been either ’07 or ’08), some guy said to me “Hey man, nice retro Flames jersey!” to which I replied “Dude, it wasn’t retro when I bought it!” Suffice to say that had it been Iginla’s sweater it might be worth something, were it not so smelly now.
As for Savard, the future All Star finished second to Iginla in scoring the following season, before a fateful trade sent him to Atlanta a couple years later for a useless Russian sack of shit named Ruslan Zainullin, who has yet to set foot in North America. At the time, word on the street said Savard didn’t get along with then-coach Greg Gilbert–who was promptly fired two weeks later. As one of the few people who actually owned his jersey, I was devastated–though on the bright side, it proved I wasn’t a bandwagon jumper when I busted out the Savard sweater during the Flames’ cup run in ’04. However, in “players we never shoulda traded” conversations, Savard was routinely trumped by Martin St. Louis, especially that season.
Alas, after almost 10 years of wear and tear–and a string of first-round, post-lockout playoff exits, I decided it was time for a new jersey. But since I was just finishing up my last year of university, and thus had no money, I decided to ask my parents for a new Flames sweater for Christmas in 2009. They agreed to get me one when I came back to Cowtown for the holidays, with the caveat that it had to be a Number 3 Dion Phaneuf. My mom really put her foot down, too.
Why Phaneuf, you ask? Well, as it so happens, Dion’s grandparents were friends with my grandparents on Prince Edward Island. In fact, when we had a family reunion on the island in 2000, if memory serves, Dion’s grand-dad took our family portrait. (And no, I wasn’t wearing my Marc Savard jersey in the picture!) Personally, I didn’t have any problem with Phaneuf. He was a good, young defenceman who played a physical game and dated Sean Avery’s sloppy seconds–which is fine by me when she’s Elisha Cuthbert. But less than two months after I got my new jersey, he was traded–and not just to any team, either. Adding insult to injury, he was dealt to the Toronto Maple Leafs, who later named him captain. My mom still feels bad to this day.
That said, wearing the team captain’s old jersey carries a certain cache here in Leafs Nation, so long as the Flames aren’t in town. Yeah, I got heckled a bit at my lone Leafs game last season, but Calgary won in a shootout, which sorta served as the spark that got the Flames going on a run that almost led them into the playoffs, ultimately coming up a couple points short. On my way out, some girl asked me whether I was happy or sad, cuz “my player lost, but my team won,” to which I replied “Hey, I like Dion and all, but I’m a Flames fan all the way, baby!”–blowing any chance I might’ve had with her.
Alas, having spent almost every Calgary HNIC appearance last season at a sports bar on Yonge Street (CKLN obligeait), I found that more people wanted to give me five than to make fun of me. But whenever someone would then say, “Man, tough loss tonite, eh?” I’d just shrug my shoulders. “Hey man, I wouldn’t know. I’m only here to watch the Flames!”
Thus, if you see a fat redneck in a Phaneuf Flames jersey at a sports bar this season, don’t assume he’s a Leafs fan. I can count on my hands how many Leafs games I’ve watched since I moved here six years ago, and incidentally, they were all against Calgary. Come talk to me when you make the playoffs, alright?
UPDATE 7:20 PM: Having thought about it for a second, I’ve realized that I had finished school by Christmas ’09, and I didn’t even go home for the holidays that year. I did, however, take a trip to Calgary for the Grey Cup in the hopes that the Stamps would be in the finals–and that’s when my parents bought me the jersey, as an early Christmas present. So I actually had it for two months before the trade, though that doesn’t change too much, I suppose…