Nathan Dales - better known as Darry on Letterkenny - chatted by phone with CalgaryFlames.com's Ty Pilson about his upbringing in our city, his passion for the Flames, and how that love of team bonded him with co-star Jared Keeso, starting them down a path that led to the creation of one of the most wildly popular shows right now.
The cast was slated to visit Calgary and perform their travelling stage show at the Grey Eagle Casino on April 3. Due to the COVID-19 outbreak, that's been put on hold, though Dales promises: "We'll get to come back to Calgary again and it will be awesome, it will be incredible."
Today, in Part 1, we talk about his early memories of the club, favourite players, and what the 2004 run meant to him.
Tomorrow in Part 2, how he and Keeso used to text each other making puns with the last names of Flames players, something that morphed to Letterkenny.
Q: So, let's start at the beginning. You were born and raised in Calgary. Tell us a bit about what community you grew up in, what schools you went to, what life was a like as a kid here?
A: I grew up in a southwest community called Kelvin Grove, which is close to the Glenmore Reservoir. Went to an elementary school called Chinook Park Elementary, then junior high at the now closed Milton Williams Junior High School, and then from there went to the National Sport School at William Aberhart from 10-12 for high school to engage in some snowboading endeavours. It was for the Olympic development of sport, is what the school was for. So I went there and honed my snowboarding craft. So, that's my whole schooling in Calgary. After that I went to the University of Calgary for one semester, a glowing one semester, and then took off and went to film school after that and then theatre school.
Q: So you mentioned snowboarding. I know you also played some lacrosse. What other sports where you involved in as a kid?
A: Growing up as a young guy in Canada, hockey was a big one for me, too, for sure. But hockey was only in the winter time and at the same time for me, snowboarding was also getting big and ithere just wasn't enough time to do both. So, I think I ducked out (of hockey) around Atom. It was all at the same time on the weekend. So it was one or the other because you just can't be in two places at once and I really, really enjoyed snowboarding so I did that instead. But, lacrosse, fortunately, was in the summer time so I played lacrosse for, holy smokes, about 10 years. I started when I was really young. It was great. I loved lacrosse. It was fantastic. So, that in the summertime, snowboarding in the winter time. Also playing hockey on the pond in the winter, too. Other than that, I liked to skateboard just like any other little rat. You can skateboard a bit and hang out with your friends a bit in the summer, along with the lacrosse.
Q: So I heard you were a lacrosse goalie?
A: I was. When you're young, you play a little bit everywhere but I did have an affinity for goalie. It was fun for some reason. I do think the reason I got into it was that you didn't have to run as much. I loved that. But then it started to be really fun. Everyone is pivotal on the floor but I always thought the goalie, you have a little more riding on your back. But, goalie was super fun and played that for a long time.
Q: So we mentioned hockey. What were your first memories of the Flames? Where did your passion for the team start? Was it back in the old days listening to Ed Whalen on 2&7?
A: Ya, 2&7 for sure, and then later on the FAN 960. The FAN 960 played a huge part for me. I loved listening to it. But I remember being really young, probably my first memories was going to games. My dad and my mom would take me to Flames games at the Saddledome. We had season tickets, I think we split them with another couple of people or something like that, but we had a certain amount of games that I'd go to when I was really young. My dad would take me and buy me tons of junk food. It was amazing. We would watch it on the TV a lot, when dad had it on. But I loved all the radio announcers, too. Whenever we were driving around in the car, we'd listen to it.
Q: Do you remember who your first favourite player was on the team?
A: I loved Mike Vernon. I loved him. He was great. But, you know, everybody loves, at least people around my age, Lanny McDonald. That moustache. It was the coolest thing going. How can that not be an early memory? He just kicked butt out there. But, I really liked Mike Vernon. He was a goalie and I did that, too, in lacrosse. Not at his level, of course. Being four-feet tall in a pickup lacrosse league wasn't the same. But he was awesome. I always thought the goaltenders were so interesting.
Q: So, Mike Vernon was your favourite player. Was that the first jersey you got?
A: Well, I remember having a Flames jersey. I remember it didn't have a name on the back of it. It was what would have been the home colours at that time, the white with the red and orange on the front. It didn't have a name on the back but I wore the hell out of that thing. It was with me everytime I went to the rink, no questions about it. But I think that was good. If I didn't want to be a certain player on a certain day on the rink, I could just be whoever I wanted: Mike Vernon, or Lanny or whoever you wanted to be. Maybe that was just my jusitication for being disappointed and not having a name on the back of the jersey, not sure.
Q: Flames fans usually look at 1989 and then 2004, which is a close second, as the times that most stood out for them when it comes ot this team. Tell me your memories from those times?
A: Well, I'm going to devote most of this time to 2004, because that was the last year I lived in Calgary before I took off and went to school. Leading up to 2004, the Flames hadn't been doing that well and on a whim, there was me and five friends that got together and said let's get some tickets up in the nosebleeds - it'll be a really fun thing to do. Hey, if they're no good, no big deal. So we got these tickets and they ended up just killing it, obviously, as history will tell us. They did so well and had such a great run in the season and playoffs. It was fantastic. That, to me, defines the Calgary Flames: hard working, kind of out of nowhere but so much grit. Just Cinderella story after Cinderella story. Martin Gelinas scoring all series-winning goals. That just defines the Flames for me. In '89, I was just born in '85. I can relive it in videos and it's fun, but, ya man, 2004 was the time. I never had so much fun with my close buddies from Calgary at the time and then going on that run. And I went to 42 homes games before the playoffs started. Never been to that much hockey in my life. That was just awesome that season.
Q: You have a busy schedule, but how important do you make it to take in games. Do you try and watch as many as you can?
A: Big time, big time. I live in Toronto now and we were talking about the time difference and being in the future (early joke when we first got on the phone), well games certainly start a little later here with mountain time. But NHL Live is where I can watch games because you can get every single game right there for you. I watch as many as I can on that and then when I get home to Calgary, as I try to as often as possible, to go to games. Let's not forget, they also play Toronto twice a year - once in Calgary and once in Toronto. Every time they are in Toronto, I make a point to go to the game. So that's really great.
Back in 2018, Dales was asked by NHLPA.com to name his five favourite Flames players. He said this list, in no particular order, still stands:
"He was a goaltender who did a lot of good things for the Calgary Flames. He was in net for the Flames the same time I was a goaltender playing for a minor league lacrosse team. I always had an affinity for him because he was alone out there getting pounded the Flames weren't doing so well at that time and I felt the same way a lot of the time on the lacrosse field."
"Growing up and watching him be the face of the franchise was so interesting. A guy with a lot of class that can score goals, drop the gloves and make big plays. I had season's tickets for Calgary's Cup run in 2004 and I watched him play so well in the playoffs. It was so cool."
"I'm going with Johnny because of his size and skill. He's such a good player. He's small, but his speed, his stickhandling ability and his hands he's definitely fun to watch."
"You have to take Lanny, no questions asked. Obviously, it's because of his mustache…just kidding. He was fantastic."
"I like him for some of the reasons I like Johnny Gaudreau. He was small, he was quick and he was an agitator. And boy did he have great hands."