SUN Hockey Pool

'Tender moment

Former Calgary Flames goaltender Mike Vernon addresses the media Wednesday, November 29, 2006 after...

Former Calgary Flames goaltender Mike Vernon addresses the media Wednesday, November 29, 2006 after the Flames organization announced that his number 30 jersey will be retired. (SUN/Kevin Udahl)

STEVE MACFARLANE -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 12:27 PM ET

Calgary Flames fans have always had a love/hate relationship with Mike Vernon.

So there will no doubt be some skeptics today wondering why the franchise announced yesterday it will lift the former goaltender's jersey to the rafters and retire his No. 30 alongside icon Lanny McDonald's No. 9 -- the only other sweater to be raised in the 26 years since the Flames arrived in town.

Despite his efforts in the team's Stanley Cup season of 1989, the diminutive Vernon -- a Calgary native -- became a scapegoat for many of the first-round exits that followed in his 11 seasons as a Flame during two stints with the club.

But to many of those who were in attendance yesterday when the team announced it would honour Vernon before the Flames take on the Chicago Blackhawks at the Saddledome Feb. 6, 2007, there's no doubt Vernie belongs.

"There was never a middle on him," recalled former Flames GM Al McNeil.

"They either liked him or they didn't like him -- because he was a scratchy type of player. He played with a swagger.

"Some games weren't as good as other games and they jumped all over him.

"He deserves to be up in the rafters."

Vernon obviously meant a lot to the franchise.

"Vernie is the biggest reason we are all wearing Stanley Cup rings," said MacDonald. "A good friend, a great teammate and a fierce competitor; Calgary can be proud of their hometown boy."

Vernon said the local franchise meant the world to him, too.

"I'm a hometown boy, it makes me feel good," said the 43-year-old after the announcement.

"I'm blessed to have had such a long career, to play here in my hometown in front of my family and friends.

"There's no doubt that the Flames organization was a big part of the moulding of my 17 years in the National Hockey League, my career as a professional."

He later added: "To be put up beside the guy up there, number nine, is definitely a great honour."

Vernon went on to join the Detroit Red Wings after leaving Cowtown in 1994 and helped them claim the Stanley Cup in 1997, earning the Conn Smythe Trophy in the process as the playoff MVP.

"I think that people can kind of look back and say, 'Wow, maybe he is a good NHL goaltender,' " said Vernon.

"I think a lot of it is people just want to win. The fans want to win at all cost. In those days we had some pretty good, stiff competition. The teams that we either lost out to in playoffs went on to the Stanley Cup finals or won the Cup. When people look back on things, I think they can sit there and recognize that. Maybe right at the time and the moment, they don't.

"Hopefully they think that I deserve this."

There's no doubt the Flames sure do.

---

VERNON'S FRANCHISE RECORDS

Regular season

Most games: 526

Most minutes: 29,650

Most wins: 259

Playoffs

Most games: 81

Most minutes: 4,773

Most wins: 43


Photos