SUN Hockey Pool

Magic missing

ERIC FRANCIS -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 9:22 AM ET

There are those who believed the magic would return last night. They left work early, hauled out the jerseys they lived in 15 months earlier, met their pals at the bar and returned en masse to the scene of the crime -- a place they last saw when a video judge denied the club its second Stanley Cup crown.

Oh sure the opponent last night was the lowly Chicago Blackhawks and the game was an exhibition tilt.

However, after months of hype, hope and unparalleled anticipation there was reason to believe the joint would be jumpin'.

Not so.

Despite the efforts of those lusting for the vibe that gave birth to the Red Mile and its Sea of Red, the best the fans could do was a half-hearted Go Flames Go to open the evening.

They tried it again in the second period and again in the third. Although more than a third of the 17,439 on hand (OK, so there were a few thousand empty seats) wore the Flaming 'C,' the chants didn't catch on.

Granted, for a pretend game it was a damn good effort, by the fans, that is.

Most were just happy to be watching live NHL hockey again, cheering heartily for Robyn Regehr's goal-mouth jam-job and even louder when Chuck Kobasew ended the first period early with a blast that shattered the glass behind Nikolai Khabibulin.

In their defence, there's no way any other NHL city could match the pre-season noise or enthusiasm offered up last night.

Yet, those on hand expected -- no, hoped for -- more.

Make no mistake, the home opener Oct. 13 against Dallas will be a mob scene, especially when the players are introduced and the conference banner is raised to the rafters. Deafening. Spine-tingling.

Furthermore, the sold-out 'Dome will be a phenomenal place to be all year long.

The point is, people are just going to have to get used to the fact it will never be the same.

What happened around the time Flames jerseys were on back order from here to Halifax was a once-in-a-lifetime celebration.

Seven years without playoff action and the ongoing threat of relocation followed by the most surprising string of upsets all added up to the best party this city has seen since the Olympics.

The bar was raised to a level no hockey team or city could ever surpass.

Remember that.

Even if the Flames were to run the table this year, the decibel level on Olympic Way could never match that of the home-opening playoff game against Vancouver. Or any game thereafter.

It's simply impossible.

The augmented talent level and depth on this year's Flames squad is amongst the league's best, meaning the biggest battle now will be against expectations.

For the team and the fans.

Like the old days, last night's crowd noise was spurred on by Harvey the Hound's drum or the Smooch Cam as it was by the team.

Again, it's early.

Most fans probably spent the evening trying to get used to the fact that no. 23 is now Eric Nystrom, not Marty Gelinas or that no. 19 is not Oleg Saprykin, but Kobasew.

Either way, with tickets sold out to every single game and the buzz reaching every office, pub and living room in the city, it's going to be one hell of a year at the Saddledome.

The euphoric state Calgary reached that magical spring is but a distant memory both the players and fans can only dream of duplicating.

That doesn't mean they won't try.


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