City's frown Mile-wide

NADIA MOHARIB AND DAVE BREAKENRIDGE --Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 4:18 PM ET

 The Red Mile turned into a red marathon last night, as the biggest street party this city has ever seen ended in heartbreak for what police estimate as 55,000 Calgary Flames fans.

 Their cheers turned to disappointment last night after the Lightning scored early in the second overtime period to snatch victory and send the Stanley Cup finals to a seventh game in Tampa Bay.

  Marnie Dickson said she was devastated to see the Flames lose in double overtime.

 "It's almost surreal," she said. "They took the game so far and then lost it like that."

 Others talked of rioting in protest over what they call a conspiracy -- the second period shot by Flame Martin Gelinas that many say went in, but wasn't counted.

 Lightning goalie Nikolai Khabibulin made a save on the play but a TV replay seemed to indicate the puck crossed the goal-line.

 However, NHL officials determined replays were inconclusive.

 "There was already a goal -- it already went in," said Chris Parry.

 "We should have won."

 "It's not that we played bad, it's those people that don't want us to win who are working against us."

 Before the game, Flames fans from across the country converged on the strip as early as yesterday morning, several of them driving in from Winnipeg while others flew in from Vancouver and Toronto.

 There was a lineup at Melrose Cafe and Bar at 8 a.m., two hours before they opened and they, like most Red Mile bars, were full by noon.

 The loud traditions which have come to characterize the Red Mile were in full force hours before the game.

 People were chanting, traffic was slowing, flags were waving, and revellers were high-fiveing -- everyone optimistic the Flames would prevail.

 Meanwhile, merchants along 17 Ave. S.W. peddled Flames gear, everything from paintings and $10 long underwear to Flames blankets and Mardi Gras beads.

 "This has just been outstanding for the city -- the Flames fever has captivated everyone from the youngest Calgarians to the oldest," said Mayor Dave Bronconnier.

 A group of men struck up a game of street hockey while one panhandler outside the Ship and Anchor cashed in on the festivities saying, "at least there's more bottles after the games."

 Outside the Saddledome, about 10,000 people began flocking to tailgate parties in the early afternoon.

 And only a wedding could keep Dominic Staffa and bride Tricia away from last night's game.

 The newlyweds turned up to get their wedding pictures taken at the 'Dome.

 "We've been to every game but this one," Tricia said.

 They'd arranged the wedding last June, so they had no idea this would be the day of the big game.

 Instead, their reception came equipped with TVs for game updates, and while they were decked out in traditional wedding garb, Dom had a Flames logo on his shoe to show support.

 The fever even spilled over to the Stampeders preseason CFL game yesterday afternoon against Winnipeg at McMahon Stadium.

 Fans spontaneously broke into "Go Flames Go!" chants throughout the game.

 And while every venue with a TV set within a 10-block radius of the Red Mile filled to capacity, about 100 people crowded around TVs set up in the gazebo at Tomkins Park.

 But the festivities were marred by violence around 10:20 p.m. when one man was severely stabbed on the steps of a heritage building at 13 Ave. and 2 St. S.W. in a dispute reported to be over a woman.

 "One of the people involved was stabbed and is in critical condition at Foothills Hospital," said police Insp. Rene Bailly.

 At press time, police were scouring the area by air and by ground looking for possibly two suspects who likely disappeared into the Red Mile mayhem.

 "They're definitely on the run," Bailly said.

 "As you can imagine, after the Flames game, it's chaos down here."

 Police are asking anyone who may have witnessed the fight to call investigators at 206-8601 or Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-8477.

 - - -

 FLAMES FANS ARE STOKED!

 * It's the next best thing to being there.

 Dean McCord's basement was 10 years in the making and the result is a Flames-loving suite that provides all the excitement and hoopla that comes with watching the team on home ice.

 And many drop by to experience it first hand -- and why?

 There is a large projection screen, surround sound, and when Calgary scores, six red lights turn on, four fake flame-throwers light up, sirens go off and a celebration song belts out.

 And to top it all off, the basement is decorated with every piece of Flames paraphernalia ever sold, including every jersey ever worn by the team, says McCord.


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