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GETTING FIRED UP

Excitement building as Flames look ahead to Saturday's Battle of Alberta, then Monday's home opener

by RYAN DITTRICK @ryandittrick / CalgaryFlames.com

Eighteen thousand, four hundred and thirty-one souls packed The Fortress in Las Vegas.

The volume was deafening. Fire and smoke, strobes and a Michael Buffer-esque welcome all tickled the senses. 

A live-action medieval sword fight, colourful drum line, and the epic visual of an angry sea monster tussling (and tragically succumbing) to a blinding, CGI fireball soon went viral.

Sure, that's Vegas for you. 

But on this night? 

It was the epicentre of NHL hockey, returning for the 2021-22 season. 

"It's exciting," Dillon Dube said of Tuesday's opening-night ceremonies. "Waiting a little bit, each guy gets a little more amped up, every day it gets a little bit harder to sleep.

"But we'll be good - the guys are going to come out flying with that anticipation. It's a new season. It's what we've been waiting for, for a long time, to prove that we're a good hockey team. 

"It sucks waiting a little bit, but it's exciting at the same time."

The Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay Lightning and Pittsburgh Penguins kicked off the season in the first of an ESPN doubleheader last night, while the Golden Knights and Seattle Kraken played host to the nightcap. 

Ten other teams will roll out on Wednesday, with another handful on Thursday and Friday before the Flames finally enter the chat. 

It's a long - looooong - wait, with plenty of practice in between, but the anticipation is building. 

The arenas are full. The energy is palpable. 

With a Battle of Alberta on tap this coming Saturday, followed by the Scotiabank Home-Opener on Monday against the Anaheim Ducks (click here for tickets), the lids on these two Alberta barns are ready to pop off. 

And nothing beats the vibe in the C of Red.

"I hope it's sold out," said Matthew Tkachuk, who craves a packed house as much as anyone on the team. "I hope every game is sold out. 

"That's what we've been waiting for and I'm sure what the fans have been waiting for a year and a half, too. 

"I know we're ready to elevate our games when they're here."

 

Video: "I'm excited to play in front of a full house"

 

By the time the red carpet rolls out for Saturday's Hockey Night clash, it will have been 588 days since the last meaningful game in front of a boisterous, Alberta crowd. 

Sure, the preseason helped placate at least some of those hardcore cravings, but at the end of the day … it's the preseason. 

We're ready for the real thing. 

"I noticed it (most) last year - like, simple stuff," Tkachuk said. "You would notice in warmup when there weren't any signs or people on the glass. 

"Our first game last year was in Winnipeg and it went into overtime and normally that's a time when fans are going crazy, but it was pretty dead. I think that's when I first realized it. 

"The first game was weird. It sucked. 

"But we're looking forward to a full house this year."

Tkachuk is an emotional player, in the absolute best way possible.

He thrives on the atmosphere, lives for the cheers, and takes pleasure in the boos in opposing rinks like the one three hours north. 

And make no mistake: There will be plenty of both on Saturday.  

Then?

They'll return for what should be a hero's welcome here at the 'Dome on Monday at 7 p.m. 

It is, after all, what they play for. 

"Especially here, I thought we were turning this place into a tough place to play," Tkachuk said. "Without fans, it obviously changed things a little bit. We have great fans here that are passionate and can swing momentum for us, so we're looking forward to getting that back on Monday. 

"It'll be fun."

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