SUN Hockey Pool

Simply the best!

RANDY SPORTAK -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 11:02 AM ET

It didn't take a Red Mile, The Eliminator or Darryl Sutter to put the Flames on the map in Calgary. With classic names such as Hakan Loob, Willi Plett, Jim Peplinski and Joel Otto, the Flames have been an integral part of the Stampede City for 25 years. Over a five-part series, Sun writers Eric Francis, Randy Sportak and Steve Macfarlane will examine the team's history, its greatest players and its finest moments.

He was both magnificent and mystifying. Phenomenal and frustrating. He was Kent Nilsson.

When you talk about the Flames all-time greats, it's not possible to begin the conversation with anyone other than the Magic Man.

Nearly a quarter-century after last playing with Nilsson, his former teammates still marvel at his skill. Eric Vail is among those who will call Nilsson the most talented teammate he ever skated alongside.

"He could do more things with the puck than anyone I ever played with," said Vail, who had a front-row view of Nilsson for a couple of seasons. "Actually, it didn't matter what he was doing, if it was with a golf club, a soccer ball, a hockey stick, he was always magic."

Capable of scoring at any time, Nilsson's marvelous talent didn't always come through.

And that maddening inconsistency is as much his legacy as the 229 goals and 562 points -- fifth highest on the Flames all-time list.

Long-time Flames play-by-play man Peter Maher saw on a daily basis what the Magic Man did to both amaze and frustrate the organization.

"Bob Johnson tried everything to get him to play with consistency. The trick was to try something different to keep him interested. One time, Nilsson even was sharpening his own skates and it worked for a while," Maher said.

"Even on nights you didn't notice him, Kent would end up with three assists."

In fact, the 131 points he collected during 1980-81 season -- the franchise's first in Calgary -- remains a team record.

However, the list of Flames greats doesn't start and end with Nilsson.

The first wave of Calgary Flames had no shortage of talent.

Guy Chouinard's playmaking skills helped him collect 52 assists in as many games during the 1980-81 campaign.

"The first time I saw Guy, I asked (GM) Cliff Fletcher, 'Who's that old guy?' " recalled Vail. "Cliff says, 'He's our newest player.' He didn't move too fast but had eyes in the back of his head."

Then there was Paul Reinhart, the smooth-skating defenceman who began so many rushes.

Teammate Jim Peplinski recalled: "There was no situation he couldn't play in. No position he couldn't play either. He could do it any time, any way."

Then there's the man who may have had the biggest impact on the franchise. Lanny McDonald will forever be linked to the Flames, not only for his club record 66-goal season of 1982-83 and guidance when the team claimed the 1989 Stanley Cup, but also for his presence.

Chouinard said everybody admired Lanny.

"You can only say good of Lanny, on and off the ice," Chouinard said. "It didn't matter if you were a teammate or not. To me, it's like Guy Lafleur. He could do it on the ice but bigger off the ice. When he walked into a room, everyone just wanted to be around him."

The list of great Flames keeps going. All you have to do is look at the Cup winning squad.

Think about dynamic duo defencemen Al MacInnis and Gary Suter, who absolutely dominated powerplays with one's booming point shot and the other's great passing skills.

Think about the centre-ice tandem of Joe Nieuwendyk and Doug Gilmour.

Don't forget wingers Gary Roberts, Hakan Loob and Joe Mullen.

Oh yeah, there's goaltender Mike Vernon, the hometown kid who collected 259 victories and backstopped the team to the top of the mountain.

Vernon has a tough time singling out anyone from that group.

"So many of them were great players and great leaders. Look how many went on to be captains of other teams," he said.

"Look at Tim Hunter. He came into the league as a fighter and left the league as a good penalty killer and a leader."

Don't forget the club's all-time leading scorer, Theoren Fleury, the talented pepperpot whose 830 points as a Flame remains a franchise record.

And there's the most recent addition to the list of all-time greats, Jarome Iginla.


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