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Heritage alumni game recalls glory days for Flames

by Dave Lozo / Calgary Flames

CALGARY -- For one day, the Calgary Flames partied like it was 1989.

Well, at least they tried.

The Flames, which featured 14 members of the team that beat the Montreal Canadiens to win the 1989 Stanley Cup, lost to the Canadiens 5-3 in the 2011 Tim Hortons NHL Heritage Classic Alumni Game that capped Saturday's festivities at McMahon Stadium.

The Canadiens jumped to a 3-0 lead during the first of two 20-minute halves and never looked back. The Flames' goals were scored by members of the 1989 team -- Gary Roberts, Joe Nieuwendyk and Lanny McDonald, who converted a penalty shot by beating goaltender Eric Fichaud between his legs.

"It was unreal," said defenseman Al MacInnis, who won the Conn Smythe Trophy in 1989. "When something like this comes about and you get the e-mail or the call, you know in your heart when you get here, you're going to make the right decision when you come. You go around, you talk to everybody, you rehash old stories -- and lies -- and reflect back on what the franchise was."

Walking into the Flames locker room after the game was a bit like hopping into a time a machine. Sitting to the left of MacInnis was Nieuwendyk and McDonald, still clad in their bright-red Flames jerseys. Across the way was Joel Otto, standing in his skates next to Theo Fleury, who was surrounded by reporters.

The 1988-89 Flames captured their second-consecutive Presidents' Trophy and did so in dominating fashion. They scored 354 goals and allowed just 226, the second-best marks in the League for both categories. They had two 51-goal scorers in Joe Mullen and Nieuwendyk along with physical forces like Gary Roberts, Colin Patterson and Jim Peplinski, who also pitched in offensively.

"This was a special group of guys," said Fleury, who had 14 goals in 36 games as a rookie in 1989. "A team like this come along maybe once every 50 years. We could beat you any way. We could beat you up. We could play well defensively and we could score 12 goals. It didn't matter. We had great goaltending. I think at the end of the day, when you look at how many Hall of Famers there are going to be from this team, it just goes to show you how special this group really was.

"Not only was it special in '89, it was special today too."

MacInnis, who uncorked one of his patented slap shots to pick up an assist on Nieuwendyk's goal Saturday, said the reminder of the greatness of the 1989 team was also a reminder of the Stanley Cups they let get away.

"You look back, and we probably should’ve won a couple more," MacInnis said. "We had all the ingredients you could ever imagine for a hockey team. We could play any type of game you wanted and be successful. Looking back, we would've liked to win a couple more."

Of course, it wouldn't be a reunion without some good-natured jokes at the expense of former teammates.

Who does MacInnis think has lost the most from his game through the years?

"You look at a guy like Ric Nattress, and he didn’t have much to lose," he said. "No, no. I'm just joking."

Was there any chance of seeing MacInnis uncork a 100 mph slap shot Saturday?

"Those days are over," he said. "I got a bad back."

Joel Otto, who is among several alumni who still lives in Calgary, is an assistant coach for the Hitmen of the WHL.

"Obviously the Montreal guys were quick and good," Otto said, his voice trailing off a bit. "I hate losing. But no, it was fun."

How about another 20 minutes?

"Oh, I'd be there for it," Otto said.

Follow Dave Lozo on Twitter: @DaveLozo

Author: Dave Lozo | Staff Writer

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