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After battling to overcome a serious injury and plenty of adversity, Ladislav Smid set for return to the game with his hometown Czech Republic club

by GEORGE JOHNSON @GJohnsonFlamescalgary /

The uniform hasn't changed one iota. That Tiger logo so familiar to Czech Extraliga partisans still snarls out from the front of the jersey.

Home base remains the 9,000-seat Tipsport Arena in Liberec, with a population of 102,000 the sixth largest city in the Republic.

And a quick check of the Bílí Tygři Liberec team website confirms that his old number, 15, isn't in use at the moment.

Checks off all the boxes.

"It's so … cool,'' says Ladislav Smid,

"Not only to go home again, where my family and friends are, to play for the team that really raised me for the NHL. But to be able to play at all."

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As his jersey was officially retired and raised to the Saddledome roof, Mike Vernon heaped praise on his mom for the massive impact she had on him - and the fans that sat near her at games

by GEORGE JOHNSON @GJohnsonFlames /

The air that night was thick with nostalgia.

Teeming with memories.

With images of a feisty little goaltender doing improbable things, making incredible saves. Of OT heroics off Stan Smyl and Petri Skrko when that championship dream hung uneasily in the balance.

Of arms raised to the skies at Northlands Coliseum in '86 after slaying the unbeatable Oilers and at the game's shrine, the Montreal Forum, three years later, having accomplished the ultimate.

Everyone had a favourite Mike Vernon yarn to spin.

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Brutal storm in Denver led to NHL rarity with league calling off game and Flames killing time at the hotel with Steve Nash and the Suns

by GEORGE JOHNSON @GJohnsonFlames /

What Jim Playfair remembers most is not the mountains of white. Not the State of Emergency invoked by Colorado Gov. Bill Owens, compelled to call in National Guard troops to help stranded motorists.

Not even the initial concern whether he'd even make it back home in time for Christmas.

"What I remember most vividly,'' says the Flames head coach at the time, "is my phone call with Darryl (GM Sutter) the morning we were supposed to play the game.

"I mean, there was no way.

"All you had to do was look out the window of the hotel. Everything had stopped. Everything was shut down.

"But in his gruff way, in no uncertain terms, he's saying: 'Don't worry about the (bleep)ing snow, you worry about getting the (bleep)ing team ready to play.'"

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37 FOR 37: 2004 RUN

Magical spring caught the hockey world by storm as underdog Flames piled up the upsets

by GEORGE JOHNSON @GJohnsonFlames /

Asked to at least try and explain the feeling of disappointment and desolation, Rhett Warrener used a movie reference.

"Did you,'' asked the warrior-like defenceman, "see Master and Commander?''

In the 2003 adventure yarn, Russell Crowe's Capt. Jack Aubrey is consumed with his pursuit of a bigger, faster, more seaworthy French warship.

The chase becomes a battle of wits between the two captains. At the end, despite defeating the French vessel, Aubrey finds himself still in pursuit of his rival, who has disguised himself and sailed off on Aubrey's own ship.

You exit the theatre wondering when, or even if, the British commander's prey will be caught.

Warrener could relate. At 28, he was running short on chances.

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A deal for a little depth between the pipes landed the Flames a superstar

by GEORGE JOHNSON @GJohnsonFlames /

The deal, admitted coach/GM Darryl Sutter, was made mostly out of necessity.

Flames' No.-1 Roman Turek had been sidelined indefinitely by a bum knee. Young Dany Sabourin found himself in tough trying to get up to speed to NHL calibre shooters and career caddy Jamie McLennan was on the verge of being burned out.

On the flip side, a 27-year-old largely-unheard-of Finn, Miikka Kiprusoff, had lost a battle in Silicon Valley to Vesa Toskala as back up to San Jose Sharks' starter Evgeni Nabokov.

Reduced to nothing more than a practice goaltender, Kiprusoff was eager to be moved.

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Of all the legendary toe-to-toe tilts in the history of the Battle of Alberta, MacT vs. Harvey was one of the dog-gone wildest ones

by GEORGE JOHNSON @GJohnsonFlames /

From a northerners' standpoint, the scoreline was downright depressing - 4-0 Flames.

And only nine minutes remained on the Saddledome scoreclock to overturn the sizeable deficit and his team hadn't shown any particular signs of a quick renaissance.

So, in an owly mood to begin with, Craig MacTavish wasn't about to stand for any extracurricular guff. 

Certainly none from an oversized dog cheerleader with a porkpie red hat and long red cloth tongue lolling out of its mouth.

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Iginla's 2001-02 campaign marks one of the greatest statistical seasons in Flames history

by GEORGE JOHNSON @GJohnsonFlames /

He'd go on to scale unprecedented heights for this franchise, setting career standards in the colours that threaten to stand forever.

Scrolling back to 2001-2002, though, Jarome Iginla could be considered at the very peak of his considerable powers.

"Looking back,'' Flames' assistant GM Craig Conroy is saying, "I honestly don't know how he didn't win it (Hart Trophy) that year.

"Jose Theodore had a great season, too, but …"

Conroy shakes his head.

"I mean, I realize I'm a bit biased, being a teammate and a friend, but that year … Jarome just did it all. Fought. Scored goals. Won the (Art Ross). Was our leader.


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by GEORGE JOHNSON @GJohnsonFlames /

By the bitter - and brother, was it ever bitter - end, both herds had been thinned out substantially.

Only one Flames' skater remained on the bench to keep the back-up goalie of the evening, Roman Turek, company.

The Anaheim Mighty Ducks had four.

On that night of infamy, Dec. 8, 2001, all hell done broke loose. Not just your run-of-the-mill Game 30 of a season.

Even the infamous, legendary Battle of Alberta donnybrooks paled in comparison.

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The Flames' trip to Japan was filled with adventures on and off the ice

by GEORGE JOHNSON @GJohnsonFlames /

Three diving boards perched at one end of the facility.

Now there's something you don't see every night at an NHL game.

Yoyogi Arena, though, had been built in 1964 as the swimming and diving venue for the 1964 Summer Olympic Games in Tokyo.

And on Oct. 9 and 10 of 1998, Yoyogi hosted the second instalment of the GAME ONe! festival, designed to promote the NHL brand in Japan.

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37 FOR 37: 14 FOR 14

Theo piled up the points and riled up everyone in Silicon Valley during epic playoff series

by GEORGE JOHNSON @GJohnsonFlames /

A local paper hung the nickname The Runt King on him. A San Jose radio station kept phoning, somehow getting through to the room, to awaken him at 6:30 a.m.

Hated. Scorned. Jeered.

He loved it. Every blessed second.

Theo Fleury, at his best. In his element.

Among the many compelling moments in Fleury's days as a Flame, one post-season in particular remains vivid in the mind's-eye.

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