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37 FOR 37: BIG NIGHT

Shoeless Jiri Hudler stole the show in Vegas during evening of hardware haul and accolades for Flames

by GEORGE JOHNSON @GJohnsonFlames / calgaryflames.com

They've all played The Strip. The rib-tickling greats. From Rickles to Carlin, Hope to Pryor to Dangerfield.

In bringing his comedy act to Vegas, Jiri Hudler, though, was in for a strictly-limited run:

One-night only.

Ambling out on stage at the MGM Grand that evening, June 24, 2015, Hudler stole the show at 2015 NHL Awards. 

Jokes, Hudler had.

But footwear?

To accept the Lady Byng Trophy, the Czech winger ambled up to collect his hardware from ex-NHLer Bill Guerin and comedian Russell Peters wearing only red socks on his feet.

"I have no shoes on. I'm sorry,'' Hudler told a bemused audience, explaining that new shoes purchased expressly for the big 'do were killing his insteps.

Then, scanning the room, he smiled mischieviously.

"Vegas, what a place."

Hudler then proceeded to fire off a few zingers, teasing that the first text message he received had arrived from Flames head coach Bob Hartley, checking in to make sure rookie standout Johnny Gaudreau was in bed by midnight.

And the second from Gaudreau begging Hudler to tell Hartley he was in by 11 p.m.

In pacesetting the Flames that season with 76 points - good for eight in league scoring - while incurring only 14 PIM, Hudler became the fourth winner and third recipient - Hudler joined Joe Mullen (in '87 and '89) and Bob MacMillan (in '79, while the Flames were still based in Atlanta) from the franchise to collect the Byng.

All 'round, it proved to be a heady evening for the organization.

The only downer arrived when winger Gaudreau fell short in balloting for the Calder Trophy as rookie of the year, finishing third behind winner Aaron Ekblad of the Florida Panthers and Ottawa's Mark Stone.

Gaudreau and Stone ended tied for the freshman scoring lead at 64 points apiece, but Ekblad's prowess along the blueline swayed voters.

As well, captain Mark Giordano finished among the top vote-getters for the NHL Foundation Award for community service, but lost out to San Jose D-man Brent Burns (Giordano would go on to win the award the next season). 

For piloting the Flames to a shock 20-point improvement and their first playoff berth in six springtimes and a first past the first round in 11, though, Hartley ventured into unchartered territory, becoming the first coach in franchise history to cop the Jack Adams Award, voted on by league broadcasters.

In the days leading up to the big night in Glitter Gulch, though, he happily downplayed his chances, admitting he'd never broken the bank in any previous trip to Vegas.

"I'm famous,'' was Hartley's rueful confession, "for donations."

Perhaps to his surprise, if virtually no one else's, he outpolled Nashville's Peter Laviolette and New York Rangers' pilot Alain Vigneault, the two other finalists.

"As a coach,'' said Hartley, not a bad stand-up comedian himself, deflecting praise, in accepting his award, "you just have to put the players on the ice, set a plan and go from there.

"They're the performers.

"Apart from my wife, I don't know anyone who comes to the Saddledome to watch me."

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