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MacInnis excited to receive special honour

by Laurence Heinen / Calgary Flames

Al MacInnis admitted that he didn’t always have pin-point control of his booming slap shot early in his career.

Al MacInnis played 802 games with the Flames and amassed 822 points during his tenure with the club.

“As my career went on I probably got a little smarter how to use it and I think I had to because I was probably injuring as many of our own players as I was the other team, so I had to get better control of it and I did,” said MacInnis, who played 13 memorable seasons with the Calgary Flames before finishing his career with the St. Louis Blues. “Obviously it was something I tried to use as much to my advantage as possible.”

Former Flames forward Joel Otto spent a lot of time in front of the opposition’s goal with MacInnis back on the point and he was extremely confident of his teammate’s ability to get the puck on net.

“I think he’s being modest,” Otto said. “He knew where it was going. He had a terrific shot. It was as hard as anyone obviously. He put it where he wanted.”

Perhaps best known for his heavy slap shot, MacInnis also earned accolades for his two-way play and won the Norris Trophy as the National Hockey League’s best defenceman with the Blues after the 1998-99 season.

“His reputation was his big shot early in his career, but he turned himself into a very good all-around, two-way defenceman and he finally got recognized in St. Louis with the Norris,” Otto said. “He probably could have won that a couple more times. I think Al was the type of guy through his career that worked really hard and it paid off for him.”

Having already been elected into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2007 and seeing his No. 2 retired by the Blues, MacInnis will have another honour bestowed upon him on Monday night prior to the Flames taking on the Blues at the Scotiabank Saddledome.

During Al MacInnis night on Monday, the native of Port Hood, Nova Scotia, will be the first former Flame to be honoured as part of the brand-new “Forever A Flame” program.

MacInnis will be accompanied by his family and members of the Flames alumni in a pre-game ceremony, which will see a special banner hoisted to the rafters for permanent display. “Forever A Flame” is also the beginning of an on concourse display area being created and dedicated to past and future honourees.

“Certainly it’s a special honour,” MacInnis said. “I’m excited. My family is excited to get back to Calgary and see some old friends and family, some old teammates and it should be a special couple of days and I am looking forward to it. It’s a great honour and I have a lot of special and fond memories from the 13 years I spent with the Flames.”

Otto will be among the group of Flames alumni to celebrate the occasion with MacInnis.

“Obviously it’s a well deserved honour for somebody who was here for quite a while and did so much,” Otto said. “He was a really good player.”

Growing up in Port Hood, MacInnis spent countless hours blasting slap shots in the summer, but he never dreamed that his talent would land him in the NHL.

“Believe me I only did that out of sheer boredom,” MacInnis recalled. “How that started was my dad was one of the local men who looked after the arena and my mother use to send me down at night time when he use to work the night shift to help him lock up. So I use to walk around on the outside of the glass of the boards and I use to pick up all the pucks that went over the glass.

“By the end of the hockey season I probably had 125 or 150 pucks and I would keep them all and collect them. Then in the summer time I’d have a bunch of pucks to shoot and honestly for me or for most of the kids ... the NHL sounded like it was on another planet. I was just shooting pucks for something to do during the day, not for thinking that it would give me a chance to play in the National Hockey League. That’s how it turned out.”

MacInnis left home at a young age to play for the Regina Pat Blues of the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League in the 1979-80 season. He was even called up to play a pair of games with the Regina Pats of the Western Hockey League.

“I was lucky enough to get my feet wet for two games,” he recalled. “I played one against the New Westminster Bruins and one against the Lethbridge Broncos.”

MacInnis was subsequently drafted by the Kitchener Rangers of the Ontario Hockey League and played three seasons there, winning a Memorial Cup championship in 1982.

“Our team had a lot of success and a lot of good players,” he said. “We had a lot of guys who went on to play a long time in the NHL.”

The Flames drafted MacInnis in the first round (15th overall) of the 1981 NHL Entry Draft and he suited up for two NHL games the following season and 14 more in 1982-83 before cracking Calgary’s roster for good in the 1983-84 campaign.

“We were lucky to go on and win the Stanley Cup in ’89, but just over the time you reflect back on how you started out and how our team got better each year through the draft,” said MacInnis, who won the Conn Smythe Trophy as the most-valuable player of the playoffs in 1989 when the Flames beat the Montreal Canadiens in six games in the Stanley Cup finals. “We were one of the few teams back then to explore the college free agents, like Joel Otto and Colin Patterson and Jamie Macoun, who obviously played big parts in our Stanley Cup team. The management of the team with Cliff Fletcher and Al MacNeil built a really strong team.”

MacInnis’s tenure with the Flames ended following the 1993-94 campaign when he signed with the Blues, with whom he played until the 2003-04 season.

“When you start out in a city like Calgary, you feel like you will never leave there,” said MacInnis, who now serves as Vice President, Hockey Operations with the Blues. “It was not an easy decision. Sometimes change is good. The change was good for me. It re-energized my career and I went on to play very good hockey for the St. Louis Blues. I was able to play another 10 years after I left Calgary and played some good hockey.”

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