Flames' playoff push close at hand

ERIC FRANCIS, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:01 AM ET

In the same week the Calgary Flames fire a coach who led his team to 42- and 46-win seasons, Forbes magazine anoints the Chicago Blackhawks' resurgence as the biggest team turnaround in sports history.

What do the two have in common?

Both serve as reminders of just how far the Flames have come.

Less than 10 years after Flames ownership issued an ultimatum that would see the team relocated if it didn't bolster season-ticket sales from the 8,700 mark, the club not only has 14,000 such fans -- and a lengthy waiting list, but is now in the position of being so competitive it's paying a relatively successful coach nearly a million dollars to watch from afar this NHL season.

That's because the club's standards have risen to the point that only one thing matters now -- winning another Cup.

Under Mike Keenan, Darryl Sutter didn't feel the club could get there.

From 2001 to '03, the club lost $14.5 million, and now, it's not only hugely profitable but a perennial division contender.

Forbes includes in the Hawks' turnaround a jump over the last two years from 3,400 to 14,000 season-ticket holders. The team has paid them back by making its first post-season appearance in seven years.

After seven seasons without playoffs, the Flames made a similar jump in '04 by beating the Wings and getting to the final.

So while the Flames' reversal of fortune might not have been quite as quick or dramatic, it was close -- something local fans should keep in mind as Sutter looks to find someone who can get the most out of a lineup that's come a long way since the increasingly maligned GM jumped on board.

Now more notes, quotes and anecdotes from a sports and entertainment world that hopefully didn't forget it was 10 years ago Saturday we lost one of the most famous and classiest Calgarians ever to represent our city: Owen Hart.

AROUND THE HORN

As someone who was in Athens in '04 watching Kyle Shewfelt make Canadian Olympic history, my enduring memory of his career stems not from his gold medal-winning floor routine. Instead, it revolves around the stunning class and poise with which the Calgarian handled the Olympic-sized judging sham that cost him a bronze in the vault two days later. While the entire world knew he was jobbed by the judges' decision not to deduct mandatory points from third-place winner Marian Dragulescu for touching his hands on the mat, Shewfelt didn't want to file an appeal or see it as a defeat ... A tip to Vancouver hockey fans: There's nothing Flames fans love more than hearing stunningly shortsighted suggestions goaltender Roberto Luongo is to blame for the club's second-round exit. But go ahead and let the league's premier goalie go after next year -- see how long it'll take the franchise to rebound from a loss like that.

PARTING GIFTS

Craig Conroy on his recent two-day stint as a game-night panellist on TSN: "I thought I was the best-dressed, for sure," laughed Conroy, who said he's actually leaning more towards coaching than broadcasting after hockey. "One day, (Bob) McKenzie had jeans on under the desk." ... While we're sure Chucky will be extremely average, if I'm producer of Monday Night Football, I'd hire Charles Barkley to be the third man in the booth. There's nobody in the sports world who provides the delicious combination of entertainment, humour, unpredictability and outspokenness like Sir Charles ... Favourite headline of the week: Vancouver's prostitutes training for Winter Olympics. Turns out an agency providing support services for the city's sex workers is preparing a brochure and training on how to deal with the international media. And no, the concern isn't that journalists will be interviewing them on the streets.


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