It is always tempting to tease Calgary Flame fans. Their prolonged, contented silences often seem to transform the Saddledome into a kind of cavernous library. And by springtime, those all-red ensembles are definitely out-of-season.
Sedate and sartorially misguided though they may be, let it never be said that followers of the team—who, by beating the Montreal Canadiens 4-2 last Thursday, won the Stanley Cup four games to two—are disloyal or ungrateful. This much they proved on Saturday when 45,000 loyalists lined the streets of downtown Calgary in near-freezing temperatures and driving rain for a parade to salute their shivering heroes.
When the parade ended, defenseman Al MacInnis was left with numb hands. Rubbing them together to try to get the circulation going, he said, "That was as tough as a seventh game would have been." It was largely due to MacInnis that Calgary needed only six games to defeat the Habs. In addition to quarter-backing the Flame power play, he had four goals and five assists in the series. Two of the goals were game-winners. Not surprisingly, he was awarded the Conn Smythe Trophy, which goes to the playoff MVP.
MacInnis also helped save the Stanley Cup finals from becoming a plodding affair. In a series that both coaches seemed intent on turning into a checkfest—long on backchecking, short on razzle-dazzle—MacInnis and his trusty slap shot provided most of the offensive thrills.
Sometimes the MacInnis slapper found the back of the net. Sometimes Habs goalie Patrick Roy got a piece of the puck but could not control the rebound and gave up a goal anyway. And sometimes the puck merely hit the endboards with a sharp report, eliciting an "ooooh!" from the crowd.
MacInnis also leads the league in "flamingos." A flamingo is awarded to a shooter when an opposing forward charges valiantly out to block the shot, gliding in with his knees together, ready to take one for the team. At the moment of truth, however, as the frozen rubber disc hurtles toward him at 90-plus mph, the defender raises one of his legs—survival of the species ranking somewhere above shot blocking in most men's subconscious priority list. The look is unmistakably flamingo.
MacInnis's heroics in the Cup finals came in defiance of two tired bits of conventional hockey wisdom. The first states that the Canadiens couldn't lose a Stanley Cup in the Forum, their sanctum sanctorum. Seven times the Habs had been in a position to lose the Cup on home ice. Their record in such games: 7-0. The ghosts of Hall of Famers past—Morenz, Beliveau, Richard, et al.—would not stand for a defeat.
But Calgary won anyway and, in doing so, debunked the second axiom: The Flames couldn't win because their roster was top-heavy with strong, silent types. Calgary had no take-charge players, the kind who punch walls, upend trash cans and otherwise rally the troops in times of trouble. When the going got tough, the Flames' collars shrunk.
"Until we won the Cup, the perception was, leave 'em alone and they'll find some way to screw it up," said Calgary assistant general manager Al MacNeil. Sure enough, in Game 3 the Flames blew a 3-2 lead with 41 seconds to play, then lost in double overtime. Montreal was up two games to one, and the Forum ghost stories gained credence.
Instead of wallowing in doubt, the Flames got angry. "We knew we had outplayed them," says MacInnis. What had begun as an evenly matched series became one-sided. While Montreal's snipers played ineffectually—the Canadiens power play was 4 for 33 in the series—four of the Flames stepped up and played the best hockey of their lives. Linemates Joey Mullen and Doug Gilmour had nine points in the final three games; bone-compacting center Joel Otto dominated a 3-2 Flame win in Game 5 with a breakaway goal and an assist: and goalie Mike Vernon played well enough to finish a close second to MacInnis in the Conn Smythe voting.