A quick and unscientific poll suggests that Flames fans, at least the ones who two months after their heroes’ elimination are still paying attention, don’t quite know what to make of the Stanley Cup final, which starts tonight in the House That Tony Amonte Built.
On one hand, there’s no love lost for the Chicago Blackhawks, who have played speeding Audi Q7 to the Flames’ pokey highway-crossing possum for the past couple of seasons. No one in Flames Nation needs be reminded about the Blackhawks’ back-to-back season series sweeps over the Flames, about Chicago’s triumph over the local lads in the first round of the 2009 playoffs and especially about that infamous Oct. 12, 2009, night when the Flames gassed a 5-0 lead at the Madhouse on Madison, so not a word of these incidents will be mentioned here.
A far more popular topic among the Flames faithful has been the Blackhawks’ eradication of the Vancouver Canucks, a true enemy in these parts, in consecutive playoff seasons and the intense humiliation and Byfuglienization of Roberto Luongo in doing so.
The Philadelphia Flyers, on the other hand, are one of those rarely-seen Eastern Conference teams that leave most Flames supporters indifferent unless they are old enough to remember and have an opinion on the shenanigans of the Hammer, Moose, Hound Dog and Big Bird.
That said, here a few reasons that may convince a Calgary fan to cheer for the Flyboys:
1) Blair Betts: True, the defensive-minded centreman didn’t call the Saddledome home for very long — 35 games over parts of three seasons — but he should be an easy chap for whom to root in any event. The poor guy was bedeviled by serious shoulder issues earlier in his career and he’s battled through them to become a very useful spare part in the big leagues.
Another reason to cheer for Betts is the shoddy treatment he received from his previous employer, the New York Rangers. In last year’s playoffs, Betts was the victim of a cheap-shot from Washington Capitals ruffian Donald Brashear. The Rangers’ classy reaction the following off-season was to cut ties with Betts and sign Brashear as a free agent. Well, in a case of poetic justice, Brashear wound up playing out the string in the American Hockey League while Betts and the Flyers beat New York on the final day of the 2009-10 regular season to take the last available Eastern Conference playoff berth away from the Rangers.
By the way, unless the mending Brian Boucher gets called upon to replace Michael Leighton, Betts is likely to be the only ex-Flame to participate in the final.
2) Ian Laperriere: In an NHL overflowing with bland, colourless, quoteless automotons, Laperriere stands out like Yosemite Sam at an Acme Widget and Grommet Corporation board meeting.
The man is a true character, and not in the tasteless, R-rated Sean Avery sense of the term. Just look at his mug, especially the beak with all the east-west detours, or listen to that touch of a Denis Lemieux "Who Hone Da Chiefs/The Hair is Rotten" accent and try to stop yourself from smiling. And c’mon, the guy is coming back from a freaking brain contusion after blocking a Paul Martin shot with his face in the first round of the playoffs. Upon returning, he immediately dubbed himself "The Great Gazoo" for the oversized helmet he’s wearing as a precaution.
Have a look and a listen to Lappy and be happy:
3) Marian Hossa: Yes, it’s a little juvenile and it’s a classic example of Schadenfreude, but there’s something morbidly appealing about the idea of a guy losing in the Stanley Cup final in three straight seasons for three different teams.
4) Chris Pronger: Never understood the hooting at Pronger by Flames fans when the big galoot was with the Ducks. Yes, Pronger is a natural-born villain type but all you have to do is think about how Pronger got to Anaheim in the first place — demanding a trade out of the Alberta capital after a Stanley Cup final appearance with the Oilers and jump-starting the whole Edmonton-as-the-NHL’s-Siberia reputation among NHLers. If Flames fans really wanted to twist the knife in Oilers fans’ guts, wouldn’t it have been better (and funnier) to greet Pronger as a conquering hero and cheer like mad every time he appeared at the Saddledome?
Anyhoo, Pronger is looking for his second Cup since giving Edmonton the big kiss-off and perhaps Calgarians would take a little joy out of Edmontonians’ unhappiness over such a turn of events. A tough way to make a living as a hockey fan to be sure but when it’s been six years since your team’s last playoff series win and there’s no guarantee of relief in the immediate future, you gotta take what you can get.
5) The conference trophy superstition: The Flyers carried off the Prince of Wales Trophy, the Blackhawks turned up their collective nose and ignored the Clarence Campbell Bowl like it was a month-old egg-salad sandwich. The whole "this-isn’t-the-trophy-we-want" thing was kind of clever at first, but now it’s just annoying, so it wouldn’t be a horrible thing for the Flyers to follow the Penguins’ example from a year ago (Pittsburgh players refused to touch the Prince of Wales hardware in 2008 and the Penguins lost in the final; Sidney Crosby accepted the PoW trophy in 2009 and, well, you know).
Besides, how seriously are we supposed to take teams’ hammy downplaying of second-class team prizes when conference championship caps (available at souvenir stands for $28.99!) are being distributed to players milliseconds after the final buzzer sounds in the clinching game?