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Vernon's Calgary roots now forever in the rafters

by Staff Writer / Calgary Flames
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The Pengrowth Saddledome was awash in the No. 30 Tuesday as the Calgary Flames retired the jersey of Mike Vernon, the only goaltender in Flames history to win the Stanley Cup while wearing the Flaming C.

Surrounded by friends, family, minor hockey and professional coaches and teammates from the Flames 1989 Stanley Cup team, it was an emotional evening for the Calgary-born Vernon, who will turn 44 later this month.

"Winning a Stanley Cup in Calgary was special to me because of who I am, a Calgarian," said Vernon in a speech that drew several ovations from the crowd at the 'Dome.

The only other number retired by the Flames is No. 9 which was worn by one-time captain Lanny McDonald. Tuesday every rinkboard was adored with the No. 30, which was also placed behind the net in honour of the top goalie to play for the Flames. The current Flames roster wore the No. 30 and Vernon on their warm-up jerseys which they promptly signed and put up for charity auction on the Saddledome concourse.

Fittingly the classy McDonald spoke during the on-ice ceremony.

"This is your day. Well-deserved and long overdue. You are the biggest reason we are all wearing Stanley Cup rings," said McDonald. "When a player retires, he leaves the ice. But you know he never leaves the team. Mike, congratulations and welcome to the rafters."

Vernon received gifts from Flames ownership and alumni, who donated $5,000 to the Alberta Children's Hospital and the Breast Cancer Foundation, the latter in honour of Vernon's mother who passed away after a battle with cancer.

Among those in attendance at ice level were along with several members of the Flames team that won the 1989 Stanley Cup, including Joe Nieuwendyk, Al MacInnis, Joel Otto, Theo Fleury and Jamie Macoun. Executives and coaches included Cliff Fletcher, the Flames GM at the time Vernon broke into the NHL, longtime Flames executive Al MacNeil, coach Tom Watt and minor hockey coach Al Keebler.

"I wouldn't be here without all the guidance I received from my minor hockey coaches," said Vernon.

Among those coaches, his mother Lorraine, who passed away from cancer and was very ill during Vernon's final stint in Calgary.

"My first coach. My biggest supporter," said Vernon, choking back tears."This honour has not come without the love and support I have received from my family."

Vernon spent 21 years in the NHL after being drafted 56th overall by the Flames in 1981. He played 526 regular-season games in two separate stops in Calgary posting a team-record 259 victories. He¬?also holds the record for playoff wins, with¬?43, and playoff games played by a goaltender, with¬?81.

Vernon's finest Flames¬?season was¬?the¬?1988-89 campaign. That year, Vernon guided Calgary to a franchise-record 54 wins and its lone championship in¬?franchise history.

Vernon was traded to Detroit in 1994, and was a key figure in the¬?Red Wings' Stanley Cup title in 1997, claiming the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP.¬?

After stops in San Jose and Florida, Vernon ended his career with two seasons back in Calgary in 2002, officially retiring in September of that year.

He has a home in Calgary and business interests in Victoria (Bear Mountain Golf Course) and the Columbia Valley (a real estate project).

But Tuesday was all about Vernon's roots in Calgary.

"Playing in front of you," he told the crowd, "was like playing in front of 20,000 friends. You were passionate and you were demanding. Which is exactly what a friend should be. Take some credit because No. 30 is going to the rafters. Thank you Calgary, my hometown."

He and wife Jane keep busy with their four children: Amelia, 11, Matthew, 8, John, 5 and Will, 3.

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