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Newly relocated franchise selected Denis Cyr 13th overall in the first round back in 1980

by GEORGE JOHNSON @GJohnsonFlames /

The 56-year-old financial planner is looking back on his long-ago teenage self.

"Special day,'' Denis Cyr is reminiscing from the offices of Cyr/Woertz Financial Group in Peoria, Ill. "My mother and father were there. My family, friends. And being in the Forum … the ghosts of the Canadiens, all those great teams and players, haunted that place, right?

"With the juniors, we used to get dressed next to the Canadiens' locker-room, in kind of a weight room. So once in a while, we'd walk into their room, see all the pictures, all the Hall of Famers, all the Cups.

"A wonderful place. A lot of history.

"So, yes, a very special day.

"To be honest, though, you don't appreciate it as much as you should when it's happening.

"Until you're way past your prime.

"At 56, believe me, you appreciate it a lot more than you did at 19."

On that day, June 11, 1980, Cyr, a smallish (5-foot-10, 180-lb.) right-winger with a nose for the net, represented not only an intriguing prospect but the bright new beginning for a relocated franchise. 

He remains, at No. 13, a piece of franchise trivia: the first draft selection of the Flames, freshly removed from the gently-swaying azaleas and proud gabled-houses of Atlanta, Georgia.

"I remember Al Coates … I think he was the PR guy at the time … being one of the first people I met around the table at the draft,'' Cyr recalls. "I remember being introduced to Mr. Fletcher, Al MacNeil, Pierre Page and the rest of the front-office staff.

"I remember a lot.

"It was a great day."

Operating on the ballyhooed Les Trois Denis alongside Denis Savard and Denis Tremblay - not only did the three friends share a first name, they were all reared in same Verdun neighbourhood and, as it turned out, shared a birthday, Feb. 4, 1961 - Cyr had just concluded a 146-point (70G, 76A) season for the Montreal Junior Canadiens.

Future Hall-of-Famer Savard had been chosen third overall, by Chicago, the same day.

"Denis (Savard),'' says Cyr, "was my best friend. Still is today. I talk to him a few times every week. I don't talk to Denis Tremblay as much, he's in Montreal, but we stay in touch.

"What are the odds? Growing up together. Then playing together, having success. And the same birthday.

"That kind of caught on fire in the press and we received a lot of attention. 

"The fact we weren't too bad hockey players didn't hurt, either."

The Flames clearly felt Cyr could transfer his scoring knack to the pro level.

"Being a first-round pick is always very exciting. I came to camp, and it was a real wake-up call. I remember meeting Brad Marsh and Guy Chouinard, (Dan) Bouchard.

"A big, big step for me. First camp we were on the ice twice a day, running, weight-room. Pierre Page, I remember, was big on conditioning.

"Some of the veterans then were not too happy (about the move north). You went from being in shorts in Atlanta to Calgary, a little bit colder.

"You're going into the old Corral with, what? 9,500 seats - the Saddledome was just being built - and it as just different for them.

"I don't remember a lot about the city, to be honest. But the guys … you never forget the players, the stories. That's when you build camaraderie, in the locker room and going on the road.

"Kent Nilsson, the Magic Man. Great guy. Eric Vail. I remember my first game in Montreal as a pro, scoring a goal. (Bobby) MacMillan. Billy Clement was there. Willi Plett. Brad Marsh. Guy Chouinard. Randy Holt.

"We had a good team, a big team."

After one more year of junior - a 90-point turn with Savard graduated to the Blackhawks and Tremblay dealt away to the Shawinigan Cataractes - Cyr made his leap to pro.

Did he feel the scrutiny of being a first-round, high-scoring, lavishly-promoted selection?

 "Pressure?'' he reflects. "No, not really. How can I say this in a nice way? It was an exciting time for me but also a very difficult time. My English was not great and, as a French kid, I had trouble communicating with the guys. You had to adjust to a new city, the calibre of play, the language … there was just a lot to handle for a 19-year-old kid.

"I wish I'd done better but I gave it my best."

Finding a foothold here proved difficult. He played 10 games as a Flame, scoring once, in '80-81, and 45 games through his first 'full' NHL season the next year.

On Nov. 9, 1982, dissatisfied with the rate of return, the Flames flipped Cyr to the Blackhawks in exchange for strapping centre Carey Wilson.

Cyr's Calgary scoreline: 66 games, 14 goals and 29 points.

He'd go on to log another 133 NHL games, for the Hawks and St. Louis Blues, interspersed with trips to the minors, before retiring following the 1986-87 season.

"My heart,'' says the 56-year-old financial planner, reflecting back 34 years, "was in Calgary.

"I remember when Mr. Fletcher called me about the trade. It's big business, I knew, but it was a very difficult day.

"Yes, I was going to be reunited with my buddy (Savard) but I still didn't have a good feeling. I'd never been traded before.

"They'd sent me down to Oklahoma, the old Central league. I played there a month or so and scored something like 14 goals in 10 games playing with Mike O'Dwyer and Bobby Francis. So Calgary called me back but they had a lot of good players, a lot of veterans. The guys I already mentioned.

"So it was difficult to carve a place for myself.

"I was their first-ever draft pick and I wish I could've played there 10 or 12 years and been a big part of the team.

"It just … didn't work out."


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