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Flames win Cup: 20 years later

by Peter Zuurbier / Calgary Flames
My, how time flies when you're having fun.

It was on this very day, May 25, 1989, twenty years ago, that the Calgary Flames won Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Finals 4-2 against the Montreal Canadians, capturing the first, and only, Stanley Cup in franchise history.
Twenty years ago the Saddledome was one of the newest buildings in the league, Calgary had just over 600,000 residents, and they had just voted in favour of fluoridating the water. Following the big win, tens of thousands of fans flooded 'Electric Ave.' on 11th Ave. SW instead of the 'Red Mile' on 17th Ave. A great deal has changed in our city since then, but the accomplishments of the '89 team will never be forgotten by anyone who experienced it two decades ago.

The Cup-winning squad, considered the best Flames team to ever hit the ice, featured many of the best players to ever don the 'Flaming C'. The names Lanny McDonald, Theoren Fleury, Gary Roberts, Joe Nieuwendyk, Doug Gilmour, Mike Vernon, Hakan Loob, Al MacInnis, Sergei Makarov, Joe Mullen, Joel Otto, Jamie Macoun and Gary Suter read like an all-star team from that era, but they all skated for one side. The team was not only an amalgamation of stars though, the rest of the team was comprised of tough, gritty role players who had a knack for making timely contributions. Having won the Presidents' Trophy as the top team in the NHL, the expectations were to bring the Cup to Southern Alberta, and the team rose to the challenge.

The playoffs began with a gruelling seven-game series with the Vancouver Canucks, who gave the Flames everything they could handle. The Canucks came very close to ending the fabled run before it could even get underway, as the opening round was by far the toughest test on the Flames' road to the championship. The series was won in Game 7 overtime with a goal by Joel Otto, but goaltender Mike Vernon was the hero, making big save after big save at key moments throughout the series.

Round two was against arch-nemesis Wayne Gretzky and his Los Angeles Kings, who provided little challenge as they were quickly discarded in four straight. The Campbell Conference finals featured opponents the Chicago Blackhawks, who were coached by Mike Keenan at the time. The Blackhawks also provided little competition for the deep and talented Flames team, who dispatched them in five to move onto the Stanley Cup finals.

Tim Hunter, Lanny McDonald and Jim Peplinski hoist the Stanley Cup
The 1989 Stanley Cup finals featured a rematch between the Flames and the Montreal Canadiens, who had met for the cup three years earlier, in 1986, with the Canadiens claiming victory in five games. The teams were the two best during the regular season, and seemed destined from the onset to meet in the finals. Back then the Habs' mystique was fully intact, and opposing teams not only had to contend with an extremely talented Montreal squad, but also with the decades of great performances from previous teams, as well as the ever-present spectre of the Montreal Forum, the most hallowed ground in the game's illustrious history.

Undeterred, The Flames had a mix of veterans who still stung from the 1986 loss, as well as fearless young players who had little time for the Canadiens tradition of excellence. The Flames came out victorious after six hard-fought games, and made history by winning the Cup in Montreal. The Flames were then, and today remain, the only opposing team to ever hoist Lord Stanley's Cup in the Montreal Forum. Canadiens fans, in a classy display of recognition for the Flames-Habs rivalry, cheered their opponents as they skated the ice in celebration.

The team flew back to Calgary that night, where they apparently ran out of beer before the plane even left the ground. Thousands of loyal fans waited on the airport tarmac for a glimpse of their heroes, and an estimated 50,000 fans packed into Olympic Plaza two days later, braving the bitter cold to celebrate as a city with their team.

Al MacInnis, with his howitzer of a point shot, was named the Conn Smythe Trophy winner as playoff MVP after leading the playoff scoring race, the first defenseman in Stanley Cup playoff history to do so.

Unfortunately, the team was never the same after that magical run, during the offseason McDonald retired, Loob left the NHL and returned to play in his native Sweden, and Rob Ramage was traded to the Toronto Maple Leafs. The next year the Flames were eliminated by Gretzky and his Kings in the first round, and players like Mullen, Otto, Nieuwendyk and Gilmour eventually found their way to other teams. Fleury was the last player from the Cup-winning squad to remain with the Flames, until he was traded at the 1999 trade deadline to the Colorado Avalanche in a deal that brought back Robyn Regehr among others.

Twenty years later, eight of the Cup-winning Flames still call Calgary home , Lanny McDonald, Theoren Fleury, Jamie Macoun, Dana Murzyn, Mike Vernon, Joel Otto, Colin Patterson, and Jim Peplinski have all become fixtures in the local community. Alumni from the team have also continue to make their presence felt in the hockey community, as nine former players are involved in some capacity with other NHL teams, and seven other are heavily involved with either junior, or European hockey clubs.

In the twenty years since the Flames held the Cup, the team has managed to get back to the finals once, in 2004 when they lost in seven games to the Tampa Bay Lightning. Winning the Stanley Cup may be the toughest task in all of professional sports, 13 teams in today's NHL have never won the championship, nearly one-half of the league.

Some of the goals and saves from that run are the most famous images in the history of the hockey club. Even today, right outside the home locker room in the 'Dome, the photo taken immediately after the win from centre-ice in the Forum, as well as the name of every player from the team sits prominently for everyone who passes. Every Flames team since 1989 has faced the burden of comparison to the Cup-winning squad, and that is not likely to change even when the Flames lift the Cup again. There is only one first time, and twenty years later the shivers that come from the memories are just as acute as they were when history transpired May 25, 1989.

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