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Austin Murphy
March 13, 1989
Calgary's much-improved defense has fueled thoughts of the Stanley Cup
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March 13, 1989

Fanning The Flames

Calgary's much-improved defense has fueled thoughts of the Stanley Cup

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Calgary's emphasis on D has lowered the scoring totals of most of the Flames—with the notable exception of center Joe (Noodles) Nieuwendyk, 22. Nieuwendyk made a seemingly effortless transition from Cornell to the Flames last season, pumping in 51 goals. This season he has 44 goals, putting him on pace for another 50-plus season.

Nieuwendyk is a classic example of the Flames' no-stone-unturned scouting policy. The NHL's central scouting service had him rated 63rd in the 1985 entry draft, but the Flames took him in the second round. They knew something, just as they did in 1981 when they made Vernon, a sawed-off goalie from Calgary, their third-round pick. While Montreal's Patrick Roy gets most of the publicity accorded to goalies, Vernon, whose record is 29-6-4, has the most wins.

"By the time we pick in the draft, the superstars are gone," says Fletcher. "We have to find other ways to be competitive." The Flames were among the first NHL clubs to mine U.S. colleges for talent. They reached overseas to sign forwards Jiri Hrdina from Czechoslovakia and Hakan Loob from Sweden. And they have eight full-time and eight part-time scouts—twice as many as most NHL teams.

Through sage drafting and the exploration of nontraditional avenues for talent, Fletcher has stocked the Flames' system with unusual depth. Down on the farm in Salt Lake City, a half dozen young NHL-caliber players wait to be traded, or for someone on the big club to get hurt, which tends not to happen. "One of the advantages of all this depth is that we have very few injuries," explains defenseman Al MacInnis. "Touch wood."

A look at the Flames' current media guide gives the impression that Fletcher's preferred method of amassing talent is buzzing his secretary and saying, "June, get [Blues general manager] Ron Caron on the phone." No fewer than six former Blues are on Calgary's roster. No wonder Hockey News cartoonist Dave Elston last spring depicted Caron, stripped down to his shorts, asking, "Anything else you need, Cliff?"

In fact, as Tuesday's trade deadline approached, the Flames had no pressing needs. Oh, another solid defenseman would be nice. And they could use a major enforcer. It is no secret that Fletcher was interested in acquiring the Flyers' attitude-adjustment specialist, Dave Brown, who instead was grabbed last month by the Oilers.

But as Crisp knows, the Flames may not need more skaters as much as they do another dose of that certain virtue, the name of which Crisp is wont to doodle after difficult losses.

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