LOS ANGELES -- The "C of Red" attending the Calgary Flames game against the Los Angeles Kings at Staples Center on Wednesday was strengthened by the first Air Canada Fan Flight of the 2019-20 NHL season.
The flight brought 15 contest winners and two youth "mark makers," recognized for their contributions to the community, from Calgary to Los Angeles.
For Melissa Vanderkuil, the trip allowed the 29-year-old to get closer to her dream of seeing the Flames play in every NHL arena.
"This is kind of like a really amazing kickstart," said Vanderkuil, who won her trip through an online contest. "This trip has been amazing. They have treated us so well. Just the experience has been phenomenal. You can't even put it into words what they have done and what we've experienced."
The fans attended the Flames morning skate at Staples Center and spent time with players and coach Geoff Ward. Vanderkuil said meeting forward Johnny Gaudreau was a highlight, while Kaia Kjar, 42, got an autograph from forward Matthew Tkachuk for her daughter.
"It's always good to see behind the scenes, seeing the morning skate, see what they work on," said Ron Rooke, 51, who won his trip at the Flames' home game against the Carolina Hurricanes on Dec. 14. "Going into the locker room, we really didn't expect that."
The trip also provided a reprieve from the Calgary winter, though that wasn't necessarily the case inside Staples Center, which is regarded by visiting teams as one of the coldest arenas in the League. Vanderkuil said it felt warmer than she expected after being warned ahead of time, but "it's way better than snow (at home)," she said.
Other perks included Flames jerseys the group wore to the game and a visit to the Flames radio broadcast booth during the second intermission. The two "mark makers" were invited to Calgary's dressing room after warmups by Ward to announce the starting lineup to the team.
Rooke appreciated the comprehensive attention to detail Air Canada brought to every aspect to the trip.
"When we arrived in L.A., they had a little area for us where they took us and there was cupcakes, popcorn. They had a little Oscar trophy with our name on it, so that was pretty cool," he said. "Air Canada has been top drawer from the get-go."