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It was standing room only when the Flames debuted in Calgary

by GEORGE JOHNSON @GJohnsonFlames /

The crowd that curtain-raising night, 7,243, was awfully tiny by, say, Madison Square Garden or Joe Louis Arena standards.

But there wasn't a square inch of spectator real estate to be had.

Oct. 9, 1980.

"It felt,'' recalls Flames' defenceman Bob Murdoch, accustomed to infinitely larger venues such as the Omni in Atlanta or the Montreal Forum, "as if we were playing in a phone booth."

Within the scope of NHL buildings, the rustic Calgary (now: Stampede) Corral gave the term "intimate" a whole new meaning.

"What amazed me,'' Calgary's GM of the time, Cliff Fletcher, says now, "is that we'd been able to sell standing-room season tickets. I think they were $25 bucks a game.

"A lot of money back then. To stand. But you had a number, so no one could stand in your spot.

"That blew my mind.

"The fans were charged up. They were into it."

That first-ever game for the relocated Flames ended in a 5-5 tie.

Playmaking pivot Guy Chouinard became an instant Canadian Jeopardy answer by being the first Calgary Flames' player to score a goal, at 8:45 of the first period on Quebec Nordiques' goaltender Michel Dion.

"I should've,'' confesses winger Jim Peplinski, now a VP of Business Operations for the organization, "been the one to score the first goal in Calgary Flames history. 

"Well before Guy.

"It was early in the game, puck came right to me but I was so frickin' excited that I fired it into (Dion's) pillows. I mean, right in the middle. I remember thinking 'Oh, my gosh.' Time kinda stopped. Then on the way to the bench to change, I thought: 'Geez, I can't believe I blew that.'"

The official announcement of the franchise relocation from Atlanta to Calgary had been announced on May 21, 1980.

Four and a half months of fast-tracking later, the big top had arrived and set up shop in Calgary.

 "The whole process was challenging,'' reminisces Fletcher, "but a lot of fun. The thing that motivated all of us more than anything else is that we were in Canada, in a hockey market. Totally opposite to the situation in Atlanta.

"We knew a week after they announced the transfer of the team from Atlanta that we were sold out.

"Small building, closeness to the play … it was all positive from that standpoint."

Given the high boards, claustrophobic atmosphere, the Flames thrived in their temporary home while the bright, shiny new Olympic Saddledome was going up across the way.

"The crazy thing about the Corral,'' muses Murdoch, "was that our dressing room was on the other side of the lobby so that the end of every period and beginning of the next period we'd have to walk through the crowd to reach the ice surface.

"If you'd had a bad game …

"They had cardboard down so we wouldn't wreck the edges of our skates.

"On those walks, you got to know people. So you'd be heading out for a period, recognize someone who was there every game and say 'Hey, Bill, how's it going?' on the way out to play.

"You don't get that at many other rinks."

Over the course of that inaugural season, the Flames would compile a 25-5-10 record while inside the cozy confines of the Corral.

"It was an intimidating place for teams to come into, at least initially,'' says Fletcher, over 36 years later. 

"To be honest, I can't remember too much about that first game about other than the fact that we played Quebec and the final score was 5-5.

"What really mattered is that we were off and running."

For the full listing of our 37 for 37 moments and links to past stories, check out:


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