Flamin' crazy!

TERRY JONES -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 5:08 PM ET

 CALGARY -- It was like Little Italy in Toronto when the Azzurri win a World Cup soccer game.

 There were sections of this city where you could walk down the street and tell, by the sound from within walls, that the Flames had scored.

  When Calgary won their first playoff game in nine years in Vancouver Friday night, the streets were filled with horn-honking cars parading with flag-waving fans hanging out of windows. Calgary. It almost doesn't compute.

 Even stone-faced Darryl Sutter is excited.

 "I can't tell you how great it is to be back in Canada and be part of this environment,'' said the Viking native who has coached all his previous playoff games for U.S. franchises.

 There is no truth to the rumour that the Flames coach was on the ice playing for the Chicago Blackhawks the last time there was a playoff game here.

 "No. It's not quite that long ago. But I drove down from the farm to watch it,'' he said of the triple overtime victory by the Blackhawks 2,010 days ago.

 "Obviously our fans are excited, the team is excited. We expect our fans to match and out-do Vancouver and they were great out there.

 "For us all, as Canadians, this is such a neat feeling. In Vancouver, it was sincere,'' he said of the scene. "That's what it's about. In Canada, you're supposed to make the playoffs. It's supposed to be like this. That's why you go through hell for eight or nine months.

 "And in Calgary ... these fans have gone so long without it. If this had been an annual event, this may not be so exciting.''

 Funny how it works. All those years winning five Stanley Cups in Edmonton and it took four straight seasons with the Oilers out of the playoffs for the city to create an environment that never existed before.

 Bet on the same thing happening here tonight, except it's been eight years out, not four.

 Veteran players such as Jarome Iginla, Dennis Gauthier and Robyn Regehr have gone through a lot to get to this day.

 TALKED TO EACH OTHER

 "We've talked to each other,'' said Regehr, who has survived seven seasons and 363 regular-season games to get to a playoff game in the Saddledome.

 "I don't even know what it's going to be like. By the sounds of it, it's going to be crazy. We just want to make sure they have lots to cheer about.''

 This is Gauthier's seventh season as a Flame. He played 384 games to get to this one.

 "The first couple of years, you don't know what's going on. You're just trying to stay in the league. But then ... all the disappointment. We've always been a hard-working hockey club. We were not always smart doing it, but ... finally we're going to play a playoff game here. It's going to be exciting.

 "I always said I wanted to play my first playoff game with Calgary. I never wanted it to be with anybody else.''

 The Edmonton-born, St. Albert-raised star of the squad played his first two games as a Flame the last time they were in the playoffs, scoring a goal and an assist. He didn't play a regular-season game. But he played 626 since without getting to his next Flames game in the Stanley Cup playoffs.

 BEEN A LONG TIME

 "It's been a long time, a lot of games, a lot of tough ends to a season.''

 This one, at home in the Saddledome, he says will rank up there with the excitement of playing in the Olympics or any other thrill he's had.

 "I feel blessed with the experiences I've had, all of them,'' he said. "But this one will take a special place. I'm very excited. It's going to be an electric atmosphere.''

 Iginla, who didn't play well, getting caught up in the moment of his first playoff game in all those years in Game 1 in Vancouver, says he hopes to take a lesson from that one going into this one.

 "It's going to be loud. I think the loudest I've ever heard a building was at the Olympics in Salt Lake City. It wasn't a very big arena. But it was very loud.

 "This has been so long, it's made it sweeter, that's for sure.

 "I definitely appreciate it more than if this had been something that happened every year ... although I wish it had happened every year.''

 Iginla grew up on Edmonton Oiler Stanley Cups and annual playoff appearances.

 But he says he always believed this sort of scene would happen here when the Flames finally played their first playoff game at home.

 "This is a great hockey city. Calgary fans don't get enough credit. We've been out seven years. That's been tough on us, but it's been tough on our fans, too. And yet, when we were out of it we were still drawing 14,000 and 15,000 fans. That's during tough, tough times.

 "To me, it's not surprising. Calgary has great, great fans.''

 The point he was trying to make is that the fans of this hockey team got so mad and so frustrated through those years that you knew they were there because it showed just how much they cared.

 The key now, he says, is to make it worth the wait.


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