CALGARY-- With a perfect environment in Fort Calgary, located close to the Scotiabank Saddledome where the Calgary Flames play, the National Hockey League launched the season with the 2015 Molson Canadian NHL Face-Off.
"It's flattering that the NHL comes to Calgary with this kind of presence, particularly when you have a sold out building to give everybody a chance to experience the game, the opening of the season, the wonder of team sport," said Jim Peplinski, a Flames alumnus and vice president of business operations.
"It all goes together very, very well. We're only a three-iron from Scotiabank Saddledome, and everybody in Calgary now can enjoy the opening to the 2015-16 season."
The 'C of Red', describing Flames fans that flock to Calgary's home rink, will pack the historic Fort Calgary and its 300,000 square feet of space. The environment also contains blue from jerseys of the Edmonton Oilers, Toronto Maple Leafs, and Vancouver Canucks, Calgary's season-opening opponent Wednesday.
An air hockey tournament, a trading card zone and trivia games line the outer fences. A series of concerts, featuring Fitz and the Tantrums prior to puck-drop, and Reuben and the Dark, and Jocelyn Alice in the first and second intermissions, respectively, will entertain the crowd which is expected to reach five digits.
All within view of the home of the Flames.
"The scale of the game has just grown so much," Peplinski said. "To see what it has turned into and to see how technology has taken over parts of it, I'm not even sure that I can accurately express the impact that the game has on individuals now. In Calgary, people are excited about the season. They're watching it on their TVs, they're watching on their mobile devices, and hopefully with all that connectivity, they'll participate in this shoulder-to-shoulder as well."
In addition to the music, the family-friendly celebration features prizes and giveaways and appearances from NHL alumni including Peplinski, Lanny McDonald and Theo Fleury.
Sponsored hockey activities, interactive games and product previews, courtesy of NHL corporate partners Molson Canadian, Scotiabank, Rogers, Bridgestone, Honda, Mondelez, Oh Henry!, Reebok, Samsung and Tim Hortons, are also on site.
It's a fitting atmosphere to kick off the season.
"It's nice to have the NHL in town always, for events like this, and on such a beautiful day," said Flames fan Gary Silkstone, draped in a Flames jersey with a name bar reading 'May 25', and the number 89, the date when Calgary won the Stanley Cup. "I'm sure they are in charge of that as well. This is Calgary. It could've easily been zero degrees and snowing.
"After the great spring that we had, it's exciting to get back at it, for sure."
The Flames qualified for the Stanley Cup Playoffs last season for the first time since 2009 and in defeating the Canucks in six games, advanced past the first round for the second time since defeating the Montreal Canadiens in six games in 1989 to win the Cup.
The run created a buzz in the city last spring, one that has been picked up at Fort Calgary this fall.
"Hockey's like oxygen here in Canada, and especially in Calgary," said Fleury, who spent parts of 11 seasons with the Flames. "The team made the playoffs last year, which I think was important for the city. This year there's super, super high expectations for the team and that's always a good thing when your team is expected to duplicate or improve on what they did the year before."
That will start Wednesday against the Canucks (10 p.m., ET; SN, TVA Sports 2).
Hockey fans are also ready.
"That's the goal, right? The ultimate goal is the Stanley Cup," Silkstone said. "You've got to make the playoffs to get there. It was a very pleasant year last year, for sure, especially considering this time last year in the pre-season what the expectations were. They were quite low.
"Last year was a pleasant surprise, I think, for all Calgary Flames. To take a step above and beyond from last year would be a successful year, I think in my opinion."