SUN Hockey Pool

Flames reignited

ERIC FRANCIS -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 11:06 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.

Jarome Iginla credits Miikka Kiprusoff.

Andrew Ference credits hard work.

Ken King credits Darryl Sutter.

And Darryl Sutter, in turn, credits the increased expectations he brought to town.

Everyone in the Calgary Flames organization has a different perspective on what turned the franchise around in 2004 when the team took the NHL by storm and fell one win shy of Stanley Cup glory.

Making up for seven years without playoff hockey, the Flames parlayed a sixth-place conference finish into an improbable run that began with a Game 7 win in Vancouver and ended with a Game 7 loss in Tampa.

Along the way, the city indulged in the equivalent of a two-month Stampede-like bender that revolved around one thing: The city's new pride and joy, the re-born Flames.

"We were just an average team that became popular because of how we did it in the playoffs," said Sutter, summing up the radical turnaround that sparked the Red Mile.

"What concerned me was when I came here ... the players thought they were going to lose.

"I'd rather think you have a good enough team that you're in the fight rather than always be the underdog."

Given little chance to beat the Canucks in the first round, Iginla's heart and Kiprusoff's brilliance pushed things to a deciding game in which veteran Martin Gelinas played the overtime hero as he would the next two rounds against Detroit and San Jose. And while players such as Steve Montador, Marcus Nilson, Ville Nieminen, Stephane Yelle, Shean Donovan and Mike Commodore took turns playing the hero, Iginla figures no one was a bigger part of the turnaround than the man affectionately known around town as Kipper.

"The biggest move probably was Kipper, as far as momentum goes," said the Flames captain, who admits he knew nothing of the quiet goalie who arrived via San Jose early in the year.

"Getting Reggie (Robyn Regehr) and Leo (Jordan Leopold) in trades and drafting well to get Kobasew -- there were a lot of positive steps over the years. A big, big step was getting over the hump and making the playoffs instead of falling short in the final

10 games."

Clinching a playoff spot April 1 and entering the playoffs with a touch of momentum and a gritty identity, few in the city believed there'd be more than a few raucous home games left. Ference did.

"Hard work," said Ference when asked how the team did it.

"You boil it down to the basics. You bring Sutter in, he brings in guys who are going to believe in him and his system and there you have it. There was always a good framework for success here -- great fans, great city, great front office. It's just that little element -- bring in a guy like Darryl who isn't going to paint things with a pretty brush or sugarcoat things. He'll tell you as a player what he wants and expects and all the players who couldn't handle it are gone."

Sparking what King refers to now as the club's renaissance period, the Flames Cup run has helped set the template for future success, according to Sutter.

"The expectations of everybody in that locker-room -- it's more of a defined role for everybody and that goes right through to the scouts and everyone," said Sutter, who credits King's leadership as key.

"Before it was demanding things and now it's expecting things. It takes a long time. The attitude of the players is different. Whether that makes a difference immediately, I don't know but long- term, the attitude change of the players is how you change a locker-room and how you rebuild the organization. We have to continue to do that."

The city -- no, the Red Mile -- is counting on it.


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