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Long before he wore the 'C', Pepper was a leader in the locker-room who pushed everyone to be better

by GEORGE JOHNSON @GJohnsonFlames /

They are the best of the best in Calgary Flames history.

Over 24 days we will profile our All-Time All-Stars (listed alphabetically at each position). Make sure to check back daily to see who's getting the nod.

May 8 - Theoren Fleury (RW)

May 9 - Jarome Iginla (RW)

May 10 - Hakan Loob (RW)

May 11 - Lanny McDonald (RW)

May 12 - Joey Mullen (RW)

May 13 - Doug Gilmour (C)

May 14 - Joe Nieuwendyk (C)

May 15 - Kent Nilsson (C)

May 16 - Joel Otto (C)

May 17 - Craig Conroy (C)

May 18 - Johnny Gaudreau (LW)

May 19-22 - Left-wingers

May 23-28 - Defencemen

May 29-31 - Goaltenders

Today, we look at the legendary Jim Peplinski

He arrived with the franchise, new and full of possibilities.

He left in the bright glow of its penultimate moment.

In between, Jim Peplinski meant more to the overall well-being of the Calgary Flames than any statistical analysis could possibly reflect.

He acted the prankster.

The bodyguard.

The guy who had every teammate's back; who knew what buttons to push, and when, on the inside.

 Who helped shape, nurture and then maintain the character guidelines for the group.

He'd stick up for anybody, back down from no one.

"He had a good read on the room,'' is how longtime Flames' management staple Al Coates puts it. "Pep had an ability to read the tension."

And, when required, to deflate it. That innate ability people will follow.

A former linemate, the late Ken Houston, recalled those traits were eveident almost right off the bat.

"There was something about him … you just he'd be a leader," he said. "If we had a team meeting, he said what he felt. Didn't mind stepping on toes, either.

"He'd just air it out."

Teamed alongside Houston and rugged Willi Plett, Peplinski proved his worth early on, going noggin-to-bogging with Paul Holmgren's line as the upstart Flames cemented their transition from Atlanta with a seven-game shocker of the Philadelphia Flyers to reach the Stanley Cup semifinals their first season in the new town.

Nine years later, through the years of targeting the juggernaut up north culminating in the touchstone 117-point, title-winning season of '89-90, he acted as one of the three co-captains.

By then, though, he didn't require a letter to denote his importance.

"We had a saying in the dressing room: 'Dancers dance and fiddlers fiddle','' Peplinski said once, remembering that special group.

"And that's how it worked with our team.

"Guys like Joe Mullen and Hakan Loob were scoring goals, guys like Joel Otto were going hard to the net and guys like Tim Hunter were there at every turn, playing with real integrity.

"We were a great example of how teamwork generates success.

"The dancers danced and the fiddlers fiddled."

And the leaders led.

Six games into the title defence season, his role diminishing, he decided to retire. He exited as the Flames' all-time leader in games played at that time, 705.

There'd be a comeback, of sorts, lasting six games in the '94-95 season.  

You won't find him among the franchise's highest point-getters or goal scorers but he's still there near the summit in games played.

A one-franchise guy.

"I remember being 19 with a full head of hair,'' Peplsinki, at the end, mused about the highlights of the ride. "Oil was $30 a barrel then. I remember my first goal. Scoring four against Eddie Staniowski of the Jets - you'll notice he's not in the league anymore.

"A penalty-shot goal. Getting the chance to play in the Olympics. I remember walking into an old ATCO trailer behind the Corral in 1980 and Cliff (Fletcher) telling me I was going to start the season in Calgary. My smile was so wide I'm surprised I could find my way through the door.

"And I told him: 'You won't be sorry.'"

They weren't.

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