SUN Hockey Pool

'That eats you up'

RANDY SPORTAK -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 10:25 AM ET

If time does indeed heal all wounds, a year isn't always enough.

Sure, the pain has dulled for the Calgary Flames but there's still more than just a hint of disappointment as a dubious anniversary nears.

It was June 7, 2004, when their amazing run to the Stanley Cup final came to an end.

The 2-1 loss in Game 7 to the Tampa Bay Lightning feels like yesterday in some ways but yet so long ago, points out defenceman Andrew Ference.

"It seems like five years," Ference said. "It's been the longest year ever for a lot of people."

For that, we can all blame the lockout that killed the 2004-05 campaign and a Stanley Cup playoffs for the first time since 1919.

Still, the spring of '04 for those in the Stampede City will be remembered for the improbable and euphoric ride that brought an organization back to respectability and reminded the world Calgary is still a hockey town.

The vignettes will live on eternally: The Sea of Red, Mike Commodore's Sideshow Bob hairstyle, Jarome Iginla's feeble attempt at growing a beard, chants of "Kipper," Flaming C car flags everywhere and the Red Mile, just to name a few.

For those who toiled through the nine-week playoff run, it's a time filled with great memories and one crushing disappointment, said captain

Iginla.

"It can't get much lower than being that close and then having to hear their celebrating and their fans cheering and the music playing We are the Champions," he said. "That was the lowest feeling I've felt, for sure.

"But after that, I think of how great a run it was."

It's not easy even for someone like Martin Gelinas, who has at least won a Stanley Cup crown.

"It's not hard, it's not easy.

I guess things happen for a reason," he said. "Am I bitter? Yeah, I'm bitter. But I look back and see we had such a great run.

"The disappointment is I can't go into my office at home and look at the Stanley Cup from it. And the sad part is we didn't have a season to make it happen again."

Instead, a year later, they get to contemplate the abject disappointment of watching the clock count down in the St. Pete Times Forum -- seconds after Jordan Leopold came so close to tying the tilt and potentially sending it into overtime -- and watching the Lightning players celebrate before Dave Andreychuk hoisted hockey's Holy Grail.

Then there are all those "what ifs" that occurred that night, said Craig Conroy.

"You could tell we were on fumes. All those injuries," Conroy said. "All the questions, 'If this play would have worked or if that wouldn't have happened.' Definitely tougher to take, though, is Game 6. If that puck is in, it's over.

"I probably think more about Game 6. There shouldn't have been a Game 7."

Ah yes, the controversial Game 6 in Calgary two nights earlier.

It happened one year ago tonight.

With a city ready to explode like a champagne bottle awaiting New Year's Eve, Gelinas -- on his birthday, no less -- appeared to have scored a go-ahead goal late in regulation.

Instead of The Eliminator netting a fourth series-winning goal -- because video replays didn't concretely prove it was a goal -- it was Tampa's Martin St. Louis who became the hero by tallying in double OT, sending the series to Game 7.

"It happened so fast," Gelinas said. "I think it was a goal but, ultimately, we can't be sure and you have to live with it. I like to tell people, 'Yeah it was in,' and try to make them feel better."

But the game of inches doesn't end with that one play, Ference explained.

"There were all kinds of chances throughout Game 6," he said. "It wasn't just Gelinas' chance. I think about a chance

I had in overtime, a backhand that went off Nolan Pratt's stick and grazed the crossbar. A couple of inches difference and we win.

"That stuff eats you up."

Which is why they prefer to focus on the positives.

Ference kept a photo diary of the whole experience and put together a CD for everyone.

"Those are all such cool memories but they don't bring the equilibrium all the way back," he said.

Still, it's a great reminder how much fun that nine weeks really was, especially for Conroy, who signed as a free agent with Los Angeles after the season.

"I throw it in every now and then and it's a lot of fun to see all we did off the ice, too," he said.

"It was a great group of guys. That's what makes it so special. The hardest part for me is knowing you're not going to be back with those guys to do it all again."

Or see a city so caught up in the fun. What last spring didn't have on the 1989 run was the title but it exceeded that year in the excitement department.

Who would have expected the Flames to win a playoff series, let alone come within a single goal of hoisting the Cup?

Iginla is quick to point out the reaction of the city he's adopted as home since the fall of 1996 made the run all the better.

"I knew Calgary was a very, very good sports city from the way fans supported us in the tough times but I didn't expect it to reach that level," he said.

"After the national anthems, when the fans would start chanting, 'Go Flames Go,' you couldn't even hear yourself when you were talking to the guy beside you. That's the loudest I've ever heard a building.

"If we would have won

Game 6, it would have been so special, especially at home, but

I couldn't imagine the mayhem in the Saddledome, in the city."

Making the whole experience serve as even more motivation once the NHL gets up and running, Iginla said.

"I think about it more in a positive manner than I thought

I would have," he said. "It was quite a learning experience.

"One side of me thinks about how close we were to winning it all but the other side thinks about playing again and getting another chance to get back.

"I thought I wanted to win a Stanley Cup before -- and

I did want to win -- but it's at a whole new level."

Same goes for Robyn Regehr.

"I could say

I don't think about losing Game 7 but that wouldn't be the honest truth," said the blueliner, who played that game with torn ankle ligaments.

"All the guys think about it but it was more right after.

"A couple of months after,

I started thinking about the good things: How much hard work and effort went in -- from the players and the coaches -- and how much fun it was with the way the city reacted.

"Hopefully, this coming season it'll happen again, with a different outcome, preferably."


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