Golden couple cheers boys on

ERIC FRANCIS -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 1:56 PM ET


 The last time Calgarians spilled onto the streets to celebrate our national winter sport, Jamie Sale and David Pelletier had front-row seats in Salt Lake City.

 On Monday night, the two figure-skating icons were on hand for another golden moment, in Cowtown, when the Flames eliminated the Wings in overtime of Game 6.

 "We had to be here," said Sale, a Red Deer native who was born in Calgary and has long cheered on the Flames.

 "We've been away four months and just finished our tour (Sunday) in Vancouver. Although we couldn't wait to get home (to Edmonton), we had to change our ticket to get here."

 It was worth it, as the gold-medal-winning couple saw Calgary hockey history of sorts.

 "I grew up a (Quebec) Nordiques fan, so I've never experienced a winning goal in overtime in the playoffs," said Pelletier.

 "That was incredible -- you can't describe it. This entire province has to feel the love for the Flames."

 It sure did late Monday night when Martin Gelinas sent more than 10,000 fans towards 17 Ave. S.W. to celebrate a moment Jarome Iginla said made up for seven seasons of frustration.

 What made it so special was not just the dramatic way they finished off the high-priced Wings but that they did it at home. Despite their shocking playoff success this spring, fans had left the 'Dome heartbroken on three previous occasions, including a gut-wrenching triple-overtime loss in Game 6 against the Canucks in the opening round.

 This time, they finished it off as fans hoped they would, sparking a celebration rivalled only by that of the 1989 Stanley Cup party and the 2002 men's Olympic hockey gold.

 Some go as far as to suggest Calgarians will forever remember where they were when Gelinas found the empty net Monday, much like Paul Henderson's Summit Series winner in 1972.

 It was that big.

 "I almost lost my voice," said Sale, whispering a sentiment many Calgarians expressed yesterday.

 "It's such a good atmosphere. They outplayed 'em. It was just a matter of time."

 Yes, everybody's an expert now, placing hockey in the forefront of every conversation in town.

 Still, talk of the team's latest upset is generally preceded by a grin and shaking of the head in disbelief.

 While it's all so shockingly new to a city starved for a playoff appearance of any sort, the fact the team now has a 25% chance of winning Lord Stanley's Cup is as numbing as Monday's celebrations.

 Just one month earlier, they were pegged as 50-1 longshots by Vegas experts.

 What makes the improbable Cup run so much more enticing to the locals is the manner in which their beloved underdogs have gone about knocking off the first and third seeds in the West.

 With grit, with heart.

 It has served to instil a level of civic pride only sports can generate.

 Because of it, the city has been transformed into a pre-Stampede party with jerseys.

 Despite the euphoria and heightened drinking throughout the Flames run, there have been no violent episodes, no rioting, looting or anything of the sort. Instead, city cops say crime is actually down as even the most hardened criminals are gripped by Flames fever.

 The team has proven it's about more than just Iginla and this city has shown it's more than willing to get behind its boys.

 Even though Sale and Pelletier left for Edmonton yesterday to prepare for a week in the tropics, they'll be watching their favourite team from wherever they are.

 "We'll be back in time for the Stanley Cup finals," winked Sale who, like the Flames, knows a thing or two about poise under pressure and fighting off adversity.

 "They'll be there!"

 So will close to one million proud Calgarians.


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