Saturday, April 10, 2010

Calgary fans the Flames til the end

The Calgary Flames have lost their chance to play for the Stanley Cup this year. A final game against the San Jose Sharks earlier this week clinched it. A few days earlier, though, the team’s hometown of Calgary had kept the dream alive with a Saddledome jam-packed with red jerseys. The Flames played the Phoenix Coyotes and won.

Spirits were still high here after an impressive performance by Flames captain Jerome Iginla at the Vancouver Olympics. Goalie Miikka Kiprusoff is another fan favourite, widely cited by analysts as having the best season of any player on the team.

The Flames had played erratically, however, loosing nine games in a row, and the expectations were low. Despite all this, the mood at the Phoenix – Calgary was upbeat. The Warner family travelled from Manitoba to see the game, and even Habs fan Tracey Kendrick donned The Flames jersey.

“We didn’t really even expect them to win,” said Mrs. Warner, “But maybe we brought them some good luck.”

Though they came on the ice a bit slow, by the third period The Flames were organized and aggressive, leading to a 2-1 victory over The Coyotes. Since their defeat by The San Jose Sharks, talk of why and how the team is playing has escalated. Calls for Coach Darryl Sutter’s exit and a batch of fresh players have been loud and strong.

Flames fan and hockey blogger Derrick Newman says the Sharks-Flames game was a “microcosm of the entire season. They had 39 shots on net yet failed to score more than one goal. Flames fans now will watch as other teams charge towards the cup. They will be able to watch what good hockey should look like. Fast paced and skillful players is the game now; the game has changed and Sutter has failed to adjust.”

The expectations from and critical analysts alike can be tough. Craig Cripps, president of the Alberta Junior Hockey League, says it’s something that emerging sports talent understands well.

“The pressure is enormous. We try to prepare our players and their parents for that,” he says, noting the rising pressure around his own league’s tournament this month, “The fact is that The Flames and The Oilers have had a lot of success ... and they are professionals who are paid to perform. This is a fast-paced industry. Players at the junior level understand that when you get there, if you don’t perform, you can find yourself out of a job or on another team pretty quickly.”
Published in National Post, April 10 2010

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