Still J.D-jected

DAN TOTH -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 3:39 PM ET


 On far too many occasions, John Davidson has cast his eyes across the thousands of names preserved on the Stanley Cup, pondering what might have been.

 The 51-year-old Calgary native backstopped the New York Rangers to the 1979 final, losing in five games to the Montreal Canadiens. His Blueshirts were longshots that spring but to inch so tantalizingly close to hockey's Holy Grail, unable to touch it, still torments Davidson.

 "I think about it, not every day but almost," sighs the ABC colour commentator who is broadcasting the final series. "We were in the Stanley Cup final and didn't win it. Now I've been so close to so many finals doing television -- I've broadcast probably 20 of them and I love it but you kind of get melancholy seeing someone else win it. You see all the shots of the Cup, see the names on it and marvel at it.

 "People don't remember very often who comes second."

 Davidson sees a similarity between today's Calgary Flames and his Rangers of a quarter-century ago.

 "The only parallels I see with the two teams is that it was unexpected," Davidson points out. "Nobody wanted to play the Flames in the playoffs this spring but nobody expected them to get here either, except for them."

 Davidson's Rangers knocked off L.A., Philadelphia and the Islanders before running headlong into the Montreal Canadiens dynasty, a team he calls one of the best ever assembled.

 After shocking the Habs in Game 1 of the final, Montreal coach Scotty Bowman elected to start backup Michele (Bunny) Larocque in goal ahead of veteran Ken Dryden, although the crucial lineup change didn't last long.

 "Laroque got hit in the head in the warmups by Doug Risebrough, so I often blame Risebrough for costing me a Stanley Cup. They put Ken back in and we actually took a 2-0 lead then they came alive and put us away. There were some close games, an overtime game we lost at Madison Square Garden, or it might have been a longer, better series.

 "If we had just a little more to give. If something else had changed. If we had won the game in overtime at home, it may have changed."

 The Habs won their fourth straight title and Davidson never again came close to the Cup until beginning his career as a broadcaster.

 Working the Rangers regional broadcasts, he was awarded a ring after the Blueshirts' 1994 Cup win, jewelry he now calls "a keepsake, a good memory."

 Davidson's return to Calgary for Games 3 and 4 rekindled memories of his junior days with the Calgary Centennials of the old Western Canada Hockey League 35 years ago.

 "We were top dogs in this town," Davidson says, remembering a hockey era in the Stampede City when fans packed the old Stampede Corral before the arrival of the World Hockey Association Cowboys and long before the NHL Flames hit town.

 Returning to Calgary for the Cup final, walking into the frenzied atmosphere enveloping the city, Davidson says is a remarkable feeling.

 "Oh, it's so great," Davidson exclaims. "Both my wife and I have a lot of family here and the phone lines and the computer were burning up. Everything they said was going on is really going on here.

 "My wife and two daughters begged to come out and, sure enough, I had to fly them out here. They were in Calgary for Game 3 and experienced the Red Mile and all that stuff. They had a great time."

 Being a broadcaster gives Davidson a behind-the-scenes look at the incredible attention the Stanley Cup final is receiving around the world.

 "These are great athletes, the road to winning the Cup is a torture test and, being a part of that at one time, I know how they feel to a certain extent," says Davidson. "And it's even tougher today. They hit harder than they ever did before, the travel, everything. It's mind-boggling what these guys go through to win a championship."

 The former 'tender also has a unique perspective on Flames netminder Miikka Kiprusoff, who's won over an entire city of fans this spring after arriving last November in a trade with San Jose.

 "I think he's the real deal," Davidson insists. "He's spent a lot of time behind the scenes with David Marcoux, the goalie coach. He works hard on his craft, not just what you see on the ice -- him stopping pucks. He works for hours and hours training off the ice and he's become a student." 


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