Cliff always a class act

RANDY SPORTAK -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 9:03 AM ET

The mentors don't take a back seat to many, if any at all.

Yet, this evening, Cliff Fletcher will be put alongside both Sam Pollock and Emile Francis.

Cliff the Builder, the architect of Calgary's one Stanley Cup triumph, will now become full-fledged member of the Hockey Hall of Fame.

"You really reflect," Fletcher said on the eve of the celebration.

"I look over the list of all the builders who have preceded me and you understand in a hell of a hurry you're privileged to be part of a such a group.

"It really hasn't sunk in but I know (tonight) will be really emotional."

The man who guided the Flames fortunes for nearly two decades -- starting from scratch and turning them into Cup champions -- will have the game's highest honour bestowed upon him tonight when he's inducted in Toronto in the builders category with a trio of great defencemen: Ray Bourque, Larry Murphy and Paul Coffey.

For weeks, one of the game's most respected and humble men has been inundated with congratulatory messages.

"It's amazing the number of people who've sent me e-mails or mailed notes or called. It's almost overwhelming," he said.

"When you're in the business 48 years, you cross paths with a lot of people."

Not many finer or more successful. Or exuding as much class.

"There's no more deserving non-player in my mind," said former Flame Perry Berezan.

"He's like a father figure.

"One thing about Cliff, he always did things the right way."

Which so many here saw for so long -- yet not long enough.

Take the first year after the Flames were moved from Atlanta.

Fletcher, who apprenticed under Pollock during a decade in Montreal before moving to St. Louis and finally Atlanta, had big plans for the club in Calgary.

Under Fletcher, the Calgary Flames became a Cadillac organization, a byproduct of the man in charge.

"He's as great of a person as a GM," said Colin Patterson. "Those traits fed off each other."

With great success, too.

"The excitement in the community was something else when we came to Calgary," Fletcher said. "And then when we reached the second round of the playoffs (in 1981), we beat a very, very strong team in Philadelphia and that was huge."

But the success didn't come easy.

"He had the toughest job in hockey with Edmonton three hours up the road," Patterson said.

Yet Fletcher's Flames found a way to stop a budding Oilers dynasty in the 1986 playoffs, then won hockey's Holy Grail three years later at the Montreal Forum.

However, Fletcher's legacy in Calgary can't be measured in just wins and losses.

Looking for a proof of how much respect people have for Fletcher, consider when Berezan was traded to Minnesota.

"I drove down to the 'Dome to make sure I shook his hand," Berezan recalled, "because you couldn't leave without seeing him. That's what you have to do with Cliff."

Eventually, Fletcher also had to move on, which he didn't do before contacting every player to first.

There was a new job to be done, a new project, restoring the lustre of what was the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Within a few years, the former laughingstocks twice reached the Conference final and were again a proud organization.

Nowadays Fletcher is the senior executive vice-president of hockey operations for the Phoenix Coyotes.

"Retiring wasn't something I was crazy about," said the Silver Fox. "When Wayne Gretzky and Barney, Michael Barnett, called and asked me if I wanted to get back into it, I jumped at the chance."

After all, there's more building do be done.


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