A not-so-funny thing has happened to Boom Boom Geoffrion and the Atlanta Flames, something called initial shock. Remember last season when the Flames introduced Georgians to hockey? Those Southerners were so naive they used to cheer defensemen whenever they touched the puck for a routine icing call. The Flames managed to play a complete 39-game home schedule without reading or hearing a single word of complaint. "It was a paradise," admits Goaltender Danny Bouchard. Well, a fortnight ago it was paradise lost. The Flames were booed for the first time in their arena, the Omni.
This momentous event occurred in a losing game against Buffalo when Don Luce and Craig Ramsay of the Sabres played a private game of keepaway with the puck while the Flames supposedly were on their power play. For almost two minutes the Flames futilely chased Luce and Ramsay around the ice. The roar started in the upper reaches of the stands. Some people booed, some stomped their feet and then others booed and stomped their feet. Even Tommy Nobis, the middle linebacker of the Falcons, who likes watching hockey almost as much as he enjoys mashing quarterbacks, booed the Flames. The sudden jeers carried a clear message. As one fan said, "I didn't know the difference between the power play and the blue line last year, but now I know a good power play when I see one—and that was an awful power play, y'know."
After the game Geoffrion, the squire of Peachtree Street with his avant-garde clothes and fluorescent shoes, confronted his new critics, but he did not challenge their vocal judgment. In fact, in a masterful exhibition of public relations, Geoffrion seconded their comments and left them all convinced that they were indeed true experts.
"The power play was pretty bad, Boom," observed one fan.
"I guarantee you dat," Geoffrion said in his rapid Gallic monotone.
"They didn't skate, did they?" somebody noted.
"Dat's right. Absolutely. I agree with you 100% on dat," Geoffrion said.
"What about the boos, Boomer?" asked another.
"I have to agree with you people and all da fans," Geoffrion said. "We deserved them, to be sure."
Since that initial encounter with a hostile audience, however, Geoffrion and the Flames have kept the boos and the stomping to a minimum by winning last week's rematch against Buffalo 3-2 and then defeating the Vancouver Canucks 4-1 to remain bunched with the leaders in the NHL's West Division. In many ways the Flames can blame only themselves for any sudden outbursts of disfavor. The Flames have pampered and spoiled the people of Atlanta by giving them a legitimate playoff contender and a rinkful of promising young stars in only their second year of operation. So far this season the Flames have already defeated Boston, Montreal and hated Philadelphia. Thus the fans now expect the heroic in every game. "When we all yell 'Melt 'em, Flames, ' " drawled one Atlanta lovely, "we mean it."