Though the 2008/09 NHL season is officially over, some of the Flames simply cannot contain their ravenous thirst for competition, even off the ice.
|Vandermeer and Primeau (seated) |
To help kick off this year’s Rick Hansen Wheels in Motion, Jim Vandermeer and Wayne Primeau, along with Flames Alumni Tony Styles, NHL Alumni Charlie Simmer, and Flames VP of Ticketing and Sales Rollie Cyr, quenched their thirst, claiming victory in a celebrity wheelchair race.
Vandermeer, who was anchor for the team, gave all the credit to his mate for taking a tremendous first lap.
“Wayne had a great start, and with our lead, the rest of us kind of coasted,” said a modest Vandermeer, who admitted the dynamic the wheelchair provided threw him slightly off his gameplan.
“It was different, it’s almost like it’s backwards, and almost every guy was going the wrong way for a little bit, we really have to be grateful that none of us are in that situation.”
Primeau fell behind briefly at the horn but quickly built a lead that the other teams simply could not overcome, as a returning competitor he used his prior knowledge to expertly manoeuvre both wheels independently through the tight slalom. Going into the race Primeau knew his experience could provide the advantage for his team.
“I have one year under my belt so I think I can do a bit better this year,” said Primeau, who enjoys getting out into the community and helping make a difference.
“Whenever I can help out, if I have the opportunity to make it, whenever I can show my face in support then I try my best.”
|Flames team left to right: Styles, Cyr, Primeau, Vandermeer, Simmer |
In true team fashion, the Flames received support from Craig Conroy, a participant from last year who came to cheer on his boys.
“We need Primeau to step it up today,” said Conroy, to which Primeau laughed: “Don’t worry; we lost our dead weight from last year for today.”
Joking aside, only a life-threatening engagement prevented Conroy from participating.
“I have a family picture this afternoon and that’s why I’m not in (the race), my wife would kill me… she booked it a while ago, but I thought I’d come down early and see everybody, maybe sign a few autographs if anybody wants one, just hang out,” said Conroy who enjoys hanging out, but knows by doing so he’s helping an important cause.
“We’re down here in Eau Claire and I’m hanging out by the door, and there’s no button (to automatically open the doors), there’s a lot of places like that… it is tough, when you go through it and see how hard and challenging to see some of the things they do. If you can build awareness, help them out, but you can also just come out and have a great day.”
|Vandermeer in the slalom |
Going into the race the Flames team faced double-trouble with two extraordinarily imposing opponents, the city hall team which consisted of: Mayor Dave Bronconnier, Aldermen Joe Connelly and Andre Chabot, Shelley Hesla from Scotiabank, and Barry Lindeman, co-chair of the event. The third team was composed of members of the local media, including: Heath Brown, George Johnson, Bill Powers, Eric Francis, and Bruce Dowbiggin.
The city hall team, spurred by sparkplug Andre Chabot, made the race interesting. But despite the Flames seemingly convincing win, the stench of controversy rained over the event, as Mayor Dave Bronconnier claimed the Flames team did not race fair and square.
“They’re good on the corners but if you noticed, they missed a couple of turns, they should have been given a penalty,” said the Mayor, who couldn’t help but lace his post-race comments with a touch of smack.
“They’re a lot faster on the ice than they are on two wheels, they were trying real hard but those penalties, I just don’t know what to say…”
The controversial fallout from the race continued as the local media team fared incredibly poorly, a fact that was not lost on Eric Francis.
|Heath Brown takes a brief lead from Primeau as the horn sounds |
“The media team will be remembered because I think we had the slowest time that will be posted,” said Francis, who laid the blame squarely on the shoulders of one teammate.
“George (Johnson) literally left the brakes on for the whole race. He cost us, and he should be very proud because he helped us set that record for the worst time ever.”
Johnson, who had to be assisted for the final stretch of his lap by teammate Bruce Dowbiggin, may have also lost his mental edge by allowing his opponents to psych him out before the competition even began.
“All I know is they got the guys in the best shape on this city block up against the guys in the worst shape. Anybody who has got a nickel on us must be seriously delusional,” said Johnson pre-race.
“I feel like the Atlanta Thrashers going into a game against Pittsburgh or Detroit” (or Calgary).
|Calgary Wheels in Motion co-chair Barry Lindeman chats with the Flames team seconds before the race |
The race was a part of the festivities surrounding the seventh Rick Hansen Wheels in Motion event to be held in Calgary. The Calgary Wheels in Motion event has raised thousands of dollars over the last six years for adaptive sports equipment and specialized computer equipment for those with disabilities.
Last year, a portion of the funds went to the installation of a ceiling track at the Talisman Centre, allowing access to the pools and hot tubs for those with high-level injuries. The money raised during the Wheels in Motion event makes a real impact throughout the community, and despite their competitive nature, the actual purpose of the race did not escape the victors.
“It starts right from the ownership down, the (Flames) owners are incredibly philanthropic, they always try to stay below the radar and the players fall right into that… when they’re here in town they love to do these kind of community service events,” said alumnus Rollie Cyr.
“It’s pretty cool, pretty special,” agreed Vandermeer. “Anyway we can contribute, coming out for a few hours, signing autographs and having fun is easy for us to do.”
Even after a devastating loss, Eric Francis couldn’t help but agree on the larger implications of their experience.
“It’s a unique opportunity and I hope I never have to ride in a wheelchair again, but I got an interesting perspective on what it’s like, and seeing how hard it is.”
For more information on Rick Hansen Wheels in Motion, go to: www.wheelsinmotion.org
For more intense Flames competition, stay tuned for the upcoming 2009/10 season.