Fans kept faith despite drought

A HREF="mailto:pablo.fernandez@calgarysun.com">PABLO FERNANDEZ --Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 5:04 PM ET

 Even on Easter Sunday it can be hard to keep the faith.

 But for many Flames season-ticket holders, their devotion to the hockey team has never faltered.

  And as they prepare to take in their first Calgary playoff game in eight years, those who were there from the start and lived through the drought are savouring every bit of the glory so long denied them.

 Kim 'Santa' Thomas, a season-ticket holder every year the Flames have been in town, said keeping the faith during some seasons in the recent past has been a test of loyalty.

 "The last seven years have certainly been tough," he said.

 "It's tough when people stop showing up at the games and you see as many people there cheering for the other team."

 But lately, Calgary fans have reclaimed the Saddledome, said Thomas, who'll celebrate the team's playoff run by shaving his Santa beard at the tailgate party at the 'Dome today.

 "It's been like a roller-coaster, but it's definitely a fun time to be a Flames fan again," he said.

 Ron Johnston, another 23-year season-ticket holder, said he recalls the energy that rocks the Saddledome at playoff time and can't wait to feel that again today.

 "It's very exciting ... the place just comes alive, it's electric," said Johnston. "It's been such a long playoff hiatus for the Flames ... there is going to be so many people there who haven't even been through the playoff experience before."

 Larry Shelley, a 23-year season-ticket holder, is also pumped, but the playoff journey has been plagued with uncertainty and heartache.

 "It's been frustrating at times, it's been difficult, but (through it all), the Flames have been part of the fabric of the city," he said.

 Adding to the excitement of tonight's showdown, the Flames will unveil the new multi-million dollar Power Ring, installed to replace the neon signs and ad boards on the bottom of the first balcony. The 230-metre-long, 80-cm-high Power Ring will feature state-of-the-art full motion video.


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