CALGARY, AB -- When it was announced the Calgary Flames 1989 Stanley Cup winning team would be reuniting for the Heritage Classic alumni game next month, it elicited a few laughs from those participating.
"The tag line for this one is the older we get, the better we were," laughed Jim Peplinski. "It's always enjoyable when 30 years later, you get in the dressing room and guys start taking their clothes off because it is ... beautiful, I'm telling you."
On Feb. 19, the Flames alumni will square off against the Montreal Canadiens alumni in an outdoor game during the Heritage Classic weekend.
"When Pep and I talked about it at the World Juniors, we said any time we can get together with the history we had in the 80's, it's something that we should all try and do," said Joe Nieuwendyk. "The turnout shows that. I think it will be a great event and I'm looking forward to it."
Nieuwendyk, who now is the general manager of the Dallas Stars, noted the close knit Flames alumni group and credited that connection for being able to pull together such a roster for the event.
"I have so many great memories of the start of my career here, nine years in Calgary," he said. "That's the bond that you have for life with these guys. These guys that are here - Joel (Otto) and Dana (Murzyn) - they do such a great job of keeping everybody together. We have a really strong alumni association."
Is his skating close to what to it used it be?
"We'll see," he chuckled. "I'm sure Lanny will flying around out there so I'll try and keep up with Lanny."
Joel Otto, assistant coach of the Calgary Hitmen, will be participating in the Heritage Classic weekend in more than one manner. He'll be playing in the alumni game on Saturday and conclude the weekend coaching the Hitmen in their tilt against the Regina Pats at McMahon Stadium.
"With my involvement with the Hitmen, it's going to be fun," he said. "The team is very excited to participate this weekend, on Monday, and be able to play outdoors."
Jim Peplinski noted that rounding up players to participate was a fairly easy task given the excitement surrounding the Heritage Classic. He was quick to excuse the few players who couldn't make it, saying they all expressed interest but weren't in the position to make it out to Calgary.
"Guys like Mullen and Timmy Hunter, who are working in the NHL and makes it difficult to come. (Hakan) Loob with his team in Färjestads makes it a long way to come for a weekend. Dougy Gilmour has got a game Saturday night in Kingston and he's got some challenges with his hockey team and they want to do better.
"There are some situations like that where you go 'Yeah, that makes sense.' Everyone else, we're going to find a way to get there. It's been just great talking to guys and hearing the interest."
All three players said the biggest thrill about participating in the alumni game is the chance to catch up with their old teammates. Many retired elsewhere and live all over the world, making this an extremely unique opportunity for them.
"You keep in touch with these guys from time to time," said Nieuwendyk. "It's a common bond that we have, that special period of time in our careers. You don't always get that. There's so many players that go through their NHL careers and don't get to experience what we experienced as teammates for a six, seven year period. To have it all come together in '89 was just really special for all of us."
Peplinski is looking forward to the nostalgia the alumni match up will offer, noting some of memories are bittersweet.
"I can go back to 1980 and Burt Wilson, the original number 17 with the Flames. Burt passed away a few years ago. We've got Bob Johnson to think about. So there's all those sorts of things that percolate. It's really fun to get together and be alive and to enjoy those memories and enjoy what we've got coming up."