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Brutal storm in Denver led to NHL rarity with league calling off game and Flames killing time at the hotel with Steve Nash and the Suns

by GEORGE JOHNSON @GJohnsonFlames /

What Jim Playfair remembers most is not the mountains of white. Not the State of Emergency invoked by Colorado Gov. Bill Owens, compelled to call in National Guard troops to help stranded motorists.

Not even the initial concern whether he'd even make it back home in time for Christmas.

"What I remember most vividly,'' says the Flames head coach at the time, "is my phone call with Darryl (GM Sutter) the morning we were supposed to play the game.

"I mean, there was no way.

"All you had to do was look out the window of the hotel. Everything had stopped. Everything was shut down.

"But in his gruff way, in no uncertain terms, he's saying: 'Don't worry about the (bleep)ing snow, you worry about getting the (bleep)ing team ready to play.'"

The worst snowstorm in three years had begun battering Denver the night before, on Dec. 20, 2006, shutting down schools, the airport (for a record 45 hours, cancelling 2,000 flights and affecting upwards of 40,000 travellers) and closing several major highways.

Mail stopped being delivered and downtown malls were shuttered at the busiest shopping time of the year.

Drifts of up to five feet in height were being reported in some areas.

Already, the Denver Nuggets-Phoenix Suns NBA game had been chalked off.

"We can't even get out of the front door of the hotel,'' recalls Playfair, "and Darryl's making sure the whole team is having their naps, the pre-game meal. Everything. The whole routine. And it's non-negotiable.

"He's a thousand miles away, back in Calgary, and the guys are looking at me like I've got two heads, like 'Jimmy …' But I'm a rookie head coach, so I'm telling them: 'Hey, he's the boss …'"

Finally, hours before puck drop, the league called a halt, citing fan safety.

"We have been in close consultation with the National Hockey League and the city of Denver and all parties realized that this was the best course of action given the current conditions," said Paul Andrews, executive vice-president of Kroenke Sports, the owner of the Avalanche, in a statement.

So there was nothing to do for the Flames but wait.

"The Suns, Steve Nash, were in the same hotel as us and we sat around with them, hanging out, having beers,'' recalled Playfair. "I mean, none of us was going anywhere."

The Flames had arrived following a game in Los Angeles against the Kings, just before the worst of the storm hit.

And luckily, the intensity of the blizzard would lessen enough for them to depart the day after the game postponement to be in San Jose for a scheduled tilt on the 23rd.

For Playfair, the postponement was a first at the top-level.

"A couple times in the East Coast League we got stranded on a bus by the side of the highway,'' he recalled. "I also remember getting stuck in Winnipeg one time for three or four days when I was with Kalamazoo in the IHL.

"But in the NHL, no, that was a new one on me. There are a lot of scheduling and travel conflicts so they understandably do everything in their power to play the games."

By the way: a make-up game was held April 8, 2007, the night following Calgary's scheduled regular-season finale at the Saddledome.

The already post-season-eliminated Avalanche doubled up on the playoff-bound Flames 6-3.

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