Pure fandemonium

WES GILBERTSON, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 10:35 AM ET

Inside a jam-packed dressing room at the Montreal Forum, Mike Vernon acknowledged he was missing out on one of the best parties his old stomping grounds would ever see.

"Gawd, is the old hometown going to party," Vernon told the Sun after backstopping the Calgary Flames to their first NHL crown. "They whooped it up in '86, and we lost. Imagine the hell they'll raise now."

The acrobatic netminder, who starred for the Western Hockey League's Calgary Wranglers before graduating to the pro ranks, was right on the mark.

An estimated 25,000 fans flocked to a strip of pubs and nightclubs along 11th Avenue SW -- better known as Electric Avenue -- to celebrate the city's first Stanley Cup championship, while smaller crowds toasted their team at watering holes from Sundance to Scenic Acres and everywhere in between.

While the players and coaches and their loved ones continued to party 35,000 feet in the air -- "I remember we ran out of beer before the plane took off," forward Doug Gilmour recalled -- the Flames' faithful waited patiently for their heroes to return. What's a few more hours when you've been waiting for years to welcome home a winner?

Two decades later, Vernon still has fond memories of the way the Stampede City kicked up its heels during the 1989 playoff run.

"You can't put it into words, but it's just a high," Vernon said. "It's a total high from the people on the streets, the newspapers, the media coverage ... just the whole atmosphere of playoff hockey is amazing. It's a fever, right? It's everywhere you go."

The Flames came close to finally reaching the pinnacle in '86, advancing to the Stanley Cup final series before being bounced in five games by the Canadiens. The Habs clinched the title on Saddledome ice.

To make matters worse, their arch rivals up the road in Edmonton had sipped from Lord Stanley's mug four times in a five-year span, and the Flames faithful were tired of being the butt of jokes in the so-called City of Champions.

No wonder a few thousand fans shrugged off warnings the team would be whisked away from the airport as soon as their charter landed.

"They had lined the area where we were getting off the plane -- along the fence -- and cars lined up along the road," recalled co-captain Tim Hunter. "It was quite amazing to see. And we went to a few places later, and the look on people's faces when they got to see us. Everyone knew we'd won the Stanley Cup and here are the Calgary Flames back in town. That was very, very special."

The celebrations continued two days later with a victory parade and a civic reception at Olympic Plaza. Although Mother Nature served up a helping of frigid temperatures and wet weather, an estimated 50,000 Calgarians flooded the downtown core to fete Lanny McDonald and the Flames.

As the players and coaches rolled through the streets on flatbed trailers, members of the Round Up Band marched with fake red moustaches. Some fans showed up more than four hours early, and Olympic Plaza was jam-packed two-and-a-half hours before the champs arrived.

Mayor Don Hartman called it "the proudest time this city has ever experienced."

"It wasn't a good day -- a rainy, drizzly parade day -- and the people still showed up," marvelled former Flames bench boss Terry Crisp. "You know how they always say you're not going to pee on my parade? Well, the fans that day didn't allow it, either.

"That probably strikes me as much as anything because we had to be there. We were the parade, but the fans showed up in spite of (the weather)."


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