Alien invasion!

DAVE CAMERON -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 5:03 PM ET

 If you can't stand big crowds, better stay home tonight and watch the game on your own tube.

 If you can't stand Flames fans, maybe you'd just better tape up the windows.

  Batten down the hatches. Like you would if aliens landed.

 And that's what it might look like tonight here in Ralph Klein's second-favourite city: a landing force of Flaming C's swarming on former enemy turf.

 Set your phasers on stun.

 Twenty years ago they wouldn't have been able to get out their own door, let alone in the door of any Edmonton establishment.

 "You're not allowed in wearing red!" joked the Overtime Pub's Sandy Nesbitt, wishing he could have said it out loud back then.

 Truth is, back in the day, a dress code wouldn't have been necessary. If you were crazy enough to wear a Flames sweater in public in Edmonchuk you were definitely entering "at your own risk" territory.

 Times have changed. Then, few bars had more than a couple of TVs. The "sports bar" concept had yet to fully form.

 Now it's business, and if hockey fans, never mind Flames fans, want to come out and whoop it up, well, business is business.

 "Absolutely," the Flames matter, said Nesbitt, one of the city's veterans on the sports bar scene.

 "It's kind of strange from the old rivalry. But it's good to see a Canadian team in the finals because we've kind of been bought out of the whole thing. So everybody's pretty happy (about that).

 "We've had full houses for every game. If it had been San Jose and Tampa Bay, or San Jose and Philadelphia, there would have been mild interest.

 "A Canadian team makes it huge."

 "Everybody is just cheering for any Canadian team," concurred Matt Woods, manager at the - yes - Canadian Brew House, one of the west end's new kids on the block.

 "We had a big showing for Vancouver, Toronto, Ottawa - all the Canadian teams.

 "I think it would have hit Edmontonians a little harder 10 years ago," he said of the Flames thing. "Everybody's adjusted.

 "We're actually getting some Oiler fans in here that are cheering for the Flames. Which is kind of sad, but ... we're getting the same hockey fans in here as we did for the (Oilers') stretch drive."

 Much the same at the High Run in the east end.

 "By the second or third round every year, things were dying out," said assistant manager Curtis Schmidt. "But this year, as Calgary kept going further and further, we started getting more and more people.

 "When the playoffs first started it looked like it might be Vancouver everyone was coming to watch. But once the Canucks were knocked out, all of a sudden Calgary jerseys started popping up.

 "And it's been going crazier each round."

 Ditto for Mo's on - yes - Calgary Trail.

 "It's not necessarily the Stanley Cup, it's that the Flames are in it," said night manager Ryan Seppola.

 "I think it's bizarre, personally.

 "But people are excited about it.

 "This is the first time in recent memory that a lot of people have been showing up to watch (the playoffs). And it's just because there's a Canadian team involved.

 "It's tough not to pull for them."

 Thanks to Iggy and Oleg, they all said they expected it to be Saprykin crazy tonight.

 "It will be madness," said Seppola.

 "I think the whole country will be watching."

 Woods said, "We're trying to get a (replica) cup so we can fill it up with champagne and hand it around the bar."

 And why not the Flames?

 Schmidt makes a valid point.

 "Maybe I'm a little bitter about this," he said. "(But) with player loyalty the last few years, why should you have team loyalty? More than anything, it's just kind of nice to see somebody close to home doing well."

 For Nesbitt, who, after all, started the original downtown Overtime in partnership with known Oilers fan Kevin Lowe, it's a fine line.

 But he sees the good ol' days coming back.

 "I think the old Alberta rivalry will pick up next year. Now it will matter a little more again.

 "A little of the steam was off it."


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