What might've been

b>PAUL FRIESEN -- Winnipeg Sun

, Last Updated: 2:50 PM ET


 Once a Flame, always a Flame.

 Particularly when your former team is two wins away from capturing the Stanley Cup.

 Actually, Winnipeg's Carey Wilson is anything but a bandwagon jumper. A member in good standing with the Calgary Flames alumni, Wilson still feels like he's part of the franchise that's capturing the hearts of hockey fans across the country.

 "Very much so," the 42-year-old retired NHLer said yesterday. "It was my first team and my last team, and the one I feel the strongest ties to and stay connected with the most."

 So, like many Winnipeggers, Wilson is flying his Flames colours high and proud these days.

 Unlike most former pros, though, Wilson continues to make his home here. That's why he aches a little for what we lost.

 If you've allowed yourself to go there at all, even for a brief moment, you'll identify with what Wilson was saying yesterday.

 The 42-year-old witnessed first-hand the mania that's gripped Cowtown, when he travelled there for the Flames alumni golf tournament last week,

 And it only served to remind him of what might have been, had the Jets not flown south eight years ago.

 "I sense so much more of a loss of our Winnipeg Jets when I go to Calgary," Wilson said. "It's the talk of the town all the time. Just by going to a Calgary or an Edmonton, you get such a sense of what it does, a belonging and a sense of ownership that people take of their hockey team and their city."

 Wilson says he felt it even when the Flames weren't making a run for the Stanley Cup.

 These days, well, let's just say it's about 100 times crazier, even, than when Wilson's Flames beat the Oilers in the playoffs for the first time and marched to the Cup final in 1986.

 "It's everywhere. It's everything. It is so all-encompassing right now in Calgary, it's difficult to put into words," he said. "It's a whole new generation of fans that have been starved for success. It's new to them, and they are just gobbling it up."

 Even Wilson finds it hard to believe this team of former no-names has tossed aside division powers Vancouver, Detroit and San Jose to get to this point.

 The story reminds him a little of that '86 team.

 Back then, nobody really minded the Flames losing the Cup to Montreal, because they'd beaten the hated Oilers.

 "The whole city took that more personally," Wilson recalled. "If someone had said you can beat the Oilers or you can have the Stanley Cup, I think more people would have rather just beaten the Oilers and stuck it to them, because we'd lost to them for so many years."

 Wilson wouldn't be around three years later, when the Flames finally won their first Cup. Traded to Hartford the year before, he was moved two more times -- to the New York Rangers, then back to Hartford -- before returning to Calgary for the final two-plus seasons of his career.

 Talk about your lousy timing.

 "I always joke about it," Wilson said. "I must have been the bad apple."

 Through parts of 10 seasons, Wilson played about 600 NHL games, including playoffs, two-thirds of them with Calgary.

 He never won a Cup, so let him enjoy the Flames current run.

 Besides, what Winnipegger can resist a good Canadian underdog story?

 "Who would have thought they'd have gone from rags to riches the way they have?" Wilson said.

 Nobody.

 Not even a former Flame.


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