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Dubbed 'the Canadian Tretiak' by a teammate, Lemelin manned the pipes during the high-scoring early '80s

by GEORGE JOHNSON @GJohnsonFlames /

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Before chants for heroes of a later vintage - Theo Fleury, Jarome Iginla, Miikka Kiprusoff or Johnny Hockey - would ring out in tribute, the sound of "Reg-GIE! Reg-GIE! Reg-GIE!" had reverberated around the cozy Calgary Corral confines and then the more spacious Olympic Saddledome.

Before Mike Vernon and Kiprusoff ruled the goaltending roost here as no had before or has since, there was Reggie Lemelin.

"The Canadian (Vladislav) Tretiak,'' teammate Kent Nilsson once called him.

Among the most popular individuals of the early days of the big team in this town, the immensely-personable Lemelin still ranks third in Flames' regular-season goalie Ws, at 144.

He provided the bridge between Pat Riggin and Dan Bouchard, the top two carryovers from the Atlanta Flames days, and local product Vernon, who'd wrest the No.-1 job away from Lemelin and make it his own on the unexpected trek through four rounds to the 1986 Stanley Cup final.

Lemelin played in an era when goaltenders were little more than padded pin cushions; when goal scoring was king.

In '84-85, he produced his finest individual season as a Flame, winning 30 of his 56 appearances and a second consecutive Molson Cup. Also in '84 he represented the Flames in the Canada Cup tournament.

"Reggie had one of the best pair of feet I've ever seen on a goalie," estimates former teammate Jim Peplinski. "He moved really well. Don't forget, he was a pioneer in lighter equipment for goalies, too. Those foam-based pads that didn't give up a bunch of rebounds? He was all over that. A real innovator of the position.

"Calm under pressure. The great feet I mentioned. Good positioning.

"I thought he had all the attributes of an upper-echelon goaltender."

After losing the No.-1 job to Vernon and joining the Boston Bruins for the '87-88 campaign, Lemelin and a former Oiler arch-rival, Andy Moog, would join forces to collect the William Jennings Trophy for fewest team goals allowed.

A series of circumstances, in Peplinski's view, prevented Lemelin from receiving more accolades during his stay here.

"The defensive commitment that he had in front of him at the time, I think, required him to be better than was humanly possible,'' reckons the former co-captain. "So he probably took more responsibility for outcomes than he logically, or realistically, should have.

"We just weren't a great defensively when we were playing in front of Reggie Lemelin. The entire league was pretty wide open, too, if you remember. And the Oilers were in their heyday, scoring goals left and right.

"We were in the process of trying to reach a level to compete with them.

"I thought he was as good a goalie as I ever played with or against."

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