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'Forever a Flame,' MacInnis savors special moment

by Aaron Vickers

CALGARY -- He's known for having one of the hardest shots the game of hockey has ever seen.

It turns out Al MacInnis has a soft spot for the Calgary Flames, too.

The 48-year-old became the first honoree in Calgary's "Forever a Flame" program, saluting the organization's greatest, before Monday's game against the St. Louis Blues.

MacInnis, the MVP of the Flames' only Stanley Cup-winning team in 1989, was honored before family members, past teammates and 19,289 fans at the Scotiabank Saddledome surrounding him.

"The Calgary Flames gave me a chance to play in the National Hockey League," MacInnis said after the ceremony that featured several gifts and a $25,000 donation by the Flames to the charity of his choice.

Al MacInnis became the first honoree in Calgary's "Forever a Flame" program. (Photo: Gerry Thomas/NHLI)
"They showed patience in a young defenseman for years that needed to develop and needed work. Over time, the way that Cliff (Fletcher) and his management team were able to build this team into Stanley Cup champions -- it was the pinnacle of my career and it will always hold a huge part in my career and obviously a huge part in my heart."

While MacInnis' iconic No. 2 isn't being retired by the organization that made him a first-round pick in the 1981 Entry Draft, Calgary's "Forever a Flame" distinction celebrates his contributions to the team, including a Conn Smythe Trophy in 1989. A banner featuring MacInnis' imagine will be hung from the rafters while a concourse display is also being constructed and dedicated to MacInnis and future "Forever a Flame" recipients.

But the ceremony itself might've been enough for MacInnis.

"You wouldn't be human if you can't get nervous and you can't get excited about a night like this," said MacInnis, an All-Star in eight of his 13 seasons in Calgary.

Among the festivities highlighting the career of MacInnis was a video compilation that heavily featured the most recognizable facet of his game: the slap shot.

"When you watch it, you realize shooting the puck was a huge part of my game, obviously," he said. "People ask me if I kind of regret having that as a stigma, but it gave me a chance to play in the National Hockey League. Everybody has a calling card and everybody wants that opportunity to play in the National Hockey League. My shot gave me that chance."

A shot was all MacInnis needed. He seized the opportunity in Calgary, playing 803 games with the Flames and 1,416 career contests in the NHL. In short, the Port Hood, N.S., product made good on the opportunity to chase his dream.

"When I grew up in Nova Scotia, the NHL -- we felt it was on another planet," MacInnis said. "That's how far it was from becoming a reality."

MacInnis made it his reality, though, and because of it will forever be a Flame.

"I came here as an 18-year-old kid, green as the pasture in July, and grew into a young man," he said. "You learn some lessons along the way. When you go through those years, you develop as a player and you develop as a person. Those memories and those years never go away."

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