Lighting the Lamp - With Rick Ackerman
When the Flames moved from Atlanta to Calgary in 1980, the team was immediately embraced by the city and over 10,000 full and half season ticket packages were sold in the 7,000 seat Olympic Saddledome. Led by center Kent Nilsson, the Flames made the playoffs and defeated both Chicago and Philadelphia before bowing out to the Minnesota North Stars in the Conference Finals. While in Atlanta for eight seasons, the club never advanced past the first round of the playoffs, so this success only spurred more interest and pride in the club in Calgary.
However, the next five years were pretty lean as GM Cliff Fletcher rebuilt the team, starting with the addition of the Kitchener Rangers' Al MacInnis, drafted in the first round, 15th overall, in the 1981 amateur draft. MacInnis joined another Kitchener defenseman, all-star Paul Reinhart. Right-winger Lanny McDonald was added in a trade with Colorado later that summer in 1981. Fletcher was one of the first NHL general managers to draft U.S. college players, and he wisely added defenseman Gary Suter and forward Mike Eaves (Wisconsin), defenseman Neil Sheehy (Harvard), defenseman Charlie Bourgeois (U. of Moncton), center Carey Wilson (Dartmouth), center Joel Otto (Bemidji State) and tough winger Gino Cavallini (Bowling Green), who, of course, would play later with his brother Paul in St. Louis. Fletcher also was one of the first to draft European stars like Swedish star Hakan Loob and Finnish defenseman Kari Eloranta (who appeared in 12 games with the Blues in 1981-82, scoring one goal and seven assists).
By 1986, Fletcher had assembled a really good team, adding players like center Dan Quinn, the team's leading scorer, center Doug Risebrough, winger Joey Mullen (obtained from the Blues in a cost-cutting move for winger Eddie Beers, Bourgeois and Cavallini), goaltender Mike Vernon and a young college player from the University of Minnesota-Duluth named Brett Hull. Number 16 would not blossom and play regularly in Calgary until the 1987-88 season, when he was dealt to St. Louis in March for defenseman Rob Ramage and goaltender Rick Wamsley. The 1986 playoffs began auspiciously as Calgary swept the Winnipeg Jets in three games. In the second round, the Flames met Edmonton for bragging rights in Alberta. The two rivals traded victories in the first six games, setting up a decisive seventh game in Edmonton. The Flames took a 2-0 lead, yet the Oilers battled back to tie it. The game was decided when Oiler rookie defenseman Steve Smith accidentally shot the puck off goaltender Grant Fuhr's skate and into his own net. That game-winning own- goal ended Edmonton's hopes of winning a third straight Stanley Cup championship.
The Campbell Conference Finals against St. Louis was also a back-and-forth affair. Calgary took a 3-2 series lead into the Old Barn on Oakland on the fateful night of Monday, May 12. The first period was scoreless. Calgary poured it on in the second period as Dan Quinn scored twice (both on the power play) with Jim Peplinski and John Tonelli (also on the power play) adding goals on 18 total shots against Wamsley. Cliff Ronning scored a power play goal for the Blues, who could only muster seven shots. St. Louis narrowed the lead on an unassisted power play goal by Doug Wickenheiser, but Mullen scored to give Calgary an almost insurmountable 4-2 third period lead with just under 13 minutes to play. However Brian Sutter scored on a long rebound at 8:08 and Greg Paslawski lit the lamp at 13:49 on a slick pass from Sutter. And then at 18:52 Paslawski lifted the stick of Calgary defenseman Jamie Macoun from behind the net and whipped the puck past a shocked Vernon to tie the game. After several shots rang off the goalpost in overtime, the most notable a zinger by Mullen, the Monday Night Miracle reached its conclusion when Wickenheiser scored at the 7:30 mark, batting in a blocked shot by Mark Hunter, who took a pass from Bernie Federko, who had stolen the puck from defenseman Reinhart. The Flames would go on to win game seven in Calgary, 2-1, and narrowly win the series. Calgary would later lose to Stanley Cup champion Montreal in five games.
Ultimate success would come in the 1988-89 season. During the summer of 1988, Fletcher added Doug Gilmour (along with Mark Hunter and two minor players) for center Mike Bullard and two other minor players. The Blues panicked when Gilmour was named in a civil suit filed by the parents of a 14 year old, a babysitter for the Gilmours. "Killer" (nick-named that by Al MacInnis since he thought Gilmour looked like Charlie Manson) denied the accusations and a grand jury failed to indict him, yet nonetheless he found himself on the fast track out of town and on the way to Calgary. The Flames ran away with the Smythe Division title, piling up 105 points to win the President's Trophy as well. They also scored a franchise record 397 goals, aided by the development of center Joe Nieuwendyk, who won the Calder Memorial Trophy the year before. The Flames had trouble defeating Vancouver in seven games with Mike Vernon starring and almost single-handedly winning the series. Calgary made short work of Los Angeles, sweeping the Kings in four, and easily handled the Chicago Blackhawks, dispatching them in five games. After splitting the first two games in Calgary in the Finals with Montreal, the Flames lost game three in double overtime in Montreal, but then roared back, winning 4-2 in Montreal and returning home to win game six, 3-2. Lanny McDonald scored the second goal for Calgary, his last in the NHL. And it was his only Stanley Cup championship when Calgary won 4-2 back in Montreal, with Gilmour scoring the Cup winning goal. Al MacInnis won the Conn Smythe as MVP of the playoffs.
The visiting Calgary team tonight is but a pale shadow of a team compared to the championship Flames of the past. Nevertheless, they will play hard and tough and give the Blues all they can handle as the season winds down and the playoffs loom.