Politics of feeling good

TERRY JONES -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 1:56 PM ET

 CALGARY -- Darryl Sutter for prime minister.

 The Calgary Flames have become such a compelling national story, Paul Martin tried to tap into their popularity on his campaign trail here yesterday by visiting their dressing room. But Sutter won the day.

  "Will you tell something special to Prime Minister Martin later this afternoon to have this team going on?'' Sutter was asked at his press conference before the embarrassing dog and pony show which followed.

 "No,'' said Sutter.

 Why not?

 "It's Alberta,'' a voice rang out from the media seats. OK, that voice might have been mine. Sutter produced an expression in agreement which was worth 1,000 words, then playfully put his finger up to his lips and said, "Ssshhhhhh.''

 Sutter, who did not take part in the dressing- room sweater presentation with the PM, was more interested in talking about his own platform going into Game 3 - one of accountability.

 "We need Jordan Leopold to play better for us to have a chance to win this series,'' he said, calling out his young defenceman. "We can't afford to have anybody not maxing-out their game.''

 PROUD OF HIS CONSTITUENTS

 Sutter also spent a significant amount of time talking about his constituents in the province of Alberta.

 Never in the history of the Stanley Cup has a game sold out both buildings like Game 2 in Tampa Bay and Calgary. The Saddledome was full to capacity as fans watched the game on the Videotron. Hundreds of others were turned away.

 "I think that's pretty fabulous. I think that tells you how our city and how Alberta is excited about it and wants to watch it and get out and have a good time with it. Heck, my wife was on 17th Avenue last night,'' Sutter said of the Red Mile where 35,000 gathered in the rain when the Flames won Game 6 of the Western Conference Final.

 "Lucky I beat her home, eh?'' he laughed of the Flames charter arriving at 4 a.m.

 Apparently things have been getting a little carried away on the strip of bars where Flames fans choose to parade after games. Let's just say that the success ratio of "Show me your pride, show me your (breasts)" is said to be higher than the Flames' power play.

 "My daughter told me that,'' said Sutter.

 I'm not sure if he knows some of his players have actually been called upon to autograph that particular part of the anatomy of female Flames fans.

 Sutter was asked about it all being a distraction - not the breasts, all the other stuff now that the Flames are home for Games 3 and 4.

 "I don't think it's a distraction at all,'' he said. "I think it's great for everybody. I think it's been great since the beginning. Being able to go to Vancouver and seeing how great their fans were, that kind of got ours going. Our fans have been great. It's not just the Calgary fans now. It's the hockey fan now.''

 The media charter of 160 in a bus convoy from the airport drove past a pickup truck pulling a chuckwagon decorated in Flames logos. That's a sight you don't see in Tampa Bay. You can't go anywhere now without visual evidence of Stanley Cup fever.

 So far an NHL record 55,000 Flames sweaters have been sold - 40,000 since the start of the playoffs. The count of car flags sold was over 120,000 last week.

 An American media member asked about the difference in terms of the fever in Calgary compared to Tampa Bay.

 "Well, you've got to remember that Calgary is Canada. It's our game," said Sutter.

 "They're going to get excited. Hey, if it was Edmonton; if Edmonton was in the Stanley Cup final, I'd be excited. I'd be one of the Albertans pulling for them and getting excited about it. It's part of the deal. It's great for them to be able to experience this in May and early June.''

 Sutter reminds us how this season began.

 "To have the Heritage Classic in Edmonton and now the Stanley Cup final in Calgary ... it's great for our province.

 "The way the Oilers handled it, the job they did on the Heritage Classic, they may hold others, but nobody will get close to that,'' he said of the affair which featured 60,000 fans sitting in bone-chilling weather for seven hours to watch Wayne Gretzky and the MegaStars and then the Edmonton Oilers vs. the Montreal Canadiens in the first-ever outdoor regular season NHL game.

 HARD TO MATCH ALL THIS

 Like the Heritage Classic, it's hard to picture any city, even Edmonton, matching this.

 The strange thing considering this rivalry, which inspired a Mason-Dixon line down the middle of a bar in Red Deer in the '80s, is that both cities have been visibly happy for each other.

 "Normally, when Edmonton prevails, Calgary is down and when Calgary prevails, Edmonton is down,'' said Flames president Ken King. "This hasn't happened before.''

 Martin told the half-dozen players who participated in yesterday's photo-op, "the whole country is cheering for you. I was in Montreal and people on the streets were wearing Flames sweaters. I was just up in Edmonton. I can't believe they're all cheering for you. You are Canada's team.''

 So why would the Flames allow themselves to be used by Martin on the campaign trail?

 "We're very open-minded about who is able to adopt us,'' laughed King.


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