The Flames Experience, Or Please Keep Coming To The Games

 

Flames - Game 7 - May 3, 2006
photo by Ben Tong

 

The sport of hockey is unlike any other. It has a purer flow that requires a more visceral intuition of the game, both from an on ice perspective and that of the supporter in the stands. As far as spectator sports go, hockey gives you more bang for your buck action wise, with more events packed into a one hour segment than any other athletic competition you can spend your money on.

As a result, just watching a hockey game live is an experience, one that stands on its own. Key moments in games can be instantly hazy in one’s memory as another key moment followed so shortly after. Your attention and focus during game time is paramount. But that’s why we go to the games.

But what happens to that live experience when your team sucks? (Or, um, let’s say probably GOING TO suck)

When your team is, er, less than competitive, it can be trying on the fans who shell out their hard earned cash to watch their heroes get clobbered. This, we all mostly agree, is the plight of your Calgary Flames for this upcoming NHL season. We all have it in the back of our minds that we’re sacrificing a season for more flourishing campaigns in the future, but here in the now, it’s not going to make it any easier to sit in the flood soaked stands of the Scotiabank Saddledome as the Flaming C fights for 4th in the Pacific Division.

Something needs to be done. The games alone are worth watching, a one off experience that precludes the dreary outcome this season is sure to produce, but we need to have a draw that brings everyone in to experience them. Gimmicks, admittedly. Something to look forward to when the Flames are altogether something we will not.

Young 2uns

(I still think this is a brilliant idea and I implore any season ticket holders or anyone who has regular seats near any kind of overhang to try this out)

(UPDATE: 

 

 

It begins. I think, somehow, someway, fans should help out with this endeavour.)

The easiest way to get fans engaged in their hockey team is to get them to fall in love with the players. This has not been an easy task in past years, with the shells of aging stars with bloated contracts and underwhelming play from supposedly promising prospects, the Flames have not boasted much in the terms of likeability in their rosters since those plucky diggers in 2004 captured our hearts en route to an appearance in the Stanley Cup Finals.

This version of the Flames is a paradigm somewhere in the middle of those two contrasting teams. Certainly they don’t expect to challenge for anything particularly tangible in terms of success in the standings, but Bob Hartley seems intent on opening the season against Washington with a youthful, exuberant squad with middling skill and an innate desire to work hard.

In essence, the entirety of this year’s roster is Rudy. And who didn’t love Rudy?

It’s the Young Guns all over again. And i know, you’re probably reading the words "Young Guns" and recoiling in fear, staining your couch or office chair with something sinister you’re going to have a hard time explaining to your co-workers later, but hold on just one minute: Didn’t, on some level somewhere from inside of you, didn’t you kind of love the Young Guns?

Hold on. Hold on baby birds, let me explain.

I know, no one actually liked the Young Guns. It was an era of Flames hockey unequalled in suck. Those were a long 7 years wandering the postseason desert, parched for thirst. No one ever wants to go through that kind of skilled hockey drought ever again, but let’s look at the optics here. The Young Guns were of an era of financial doom. They were born out of a necessity to keep costs low. You’ve never heard of half of these players because you never had to. The team, through it’s own devices, became the world’s biggest underdog and did so for years. Thanks, Canadian dollar.

Think of it as the Moneyball era Oakland A’s without the success.

There was never any expectation for the team to compete. It should have been sad. And it kind of was. But we as fans found ways to identify with the players. We took pride in the positives, even if they really didn’t account for a whole lot. The team set records for wins in OT (winning in regulation was a foreign concept). Phil Housley was still pretty good. Val Bure somehow became an all-star. There was that one time when Todd Simpson murdered Peter Forsberg.

There was a lot of rag-tag players that you fell in love with because you had no choice. I very fondly recall the days where I was cheering on the exploits of Jeff Freakin’ Cowan. Clarke Wilm remains a hilarious joke to me, but one I recall with a great deal of fondness. Steve Smith played in parts of three seasons for the team during that era and ONLY MATCHED his "goals for the Flames" output that he had as a member of the Edmonton Oilers, and that is awesome.

A couple of guys named Jarome Iginla and Robyn Regehr were on their way to becoming pretty good hockey players for the Flames.

You get the point. These were players who frustrated you, but ones you could like; maybe even learn to love. Is this an iteration of the Flames that is any different?

We are already fashioning a Flames themed crown for Sven Baertschi to wear. Mikael Backlund is adorable but also a pretty good hockey player. The acquisition of Corban Knight seems to be a bit of a coup, and he’s poised to be a member of the big club this season. TJ Brodie continues to develop into a dependable top pairing defender and FN has been a booster of his since, like, forever.

These are all things to be pumped about both this season, and as positive building blocks moving forward, when guys like Sean Monahan, and, I don’t know, maybe Sam Bennett become poised to start their pro careers in Calgary.

New, Better Theme Nights

 

This is me speaking on a personal level here. I presume that a lot of you will disagree with some of my thoughts on this. But hey, what are you going to do about it?

I’m generally not a fan of the theme night at hockey games, especially in a major league. It always seems very small market farm team to me, some real Springfield Isotopes stuff. As I mentioned earlier, a hockey game stands on its own. It’s just too good to need any other marketing gimmick to pay attention to.

But I understand that pro hockey is a business, that teams look for ways to promote the game to families, and with people paying big bucks for tickets on any given night, perhaps it doesn’t hurt to have some added value attached to that stub.

Which, okay, whatever, but why does it have to be Western Night every damn year? I still hold George Canyon personally responsible for a loss vs. the Canucks a few years back, and there’s never been any retribution for his crimes. I know Calgary is in general pretty proud of it’s Western Heritage, but it’s vision of what that Heritage looks like today is so skewed I have no idea why we keep propping it up so much. It’s time for a change. (That said, I’m totally down with Retro Night, because any chance to a) not have Heather Liscano sing the anthem for a night, and b) the opportunity to see that "Can’t Touch A Flame When It’s Red Hot" video needs to be taken every time)

So we need some new themes. Flames Nation Twitter Bot went off a few weeks ago on twitter and came up with a bunch of good ones (he’s so pithy and smart, that one. Good AI there) Here are some of my favourites from that list:

 

 
I also like Jetpack Night, but I contend there are a few technological drawbacks preventing that one. FOR NOW.
 

More Positives

Look, bottom line, you’re at a hockey game, and regardless of just about anything that goes on over on the ice, that’s a pretty damn fine way to spend an evening. Whether you’re with your friends, your family, or you’re that poor soul who drew the short straw and has to sit next to Eric Francis in the press box, there’s usually a memory or two to be made at an NHL hockey game.

And there are things to look forward to when you go to these games. As an example, hey, by the sounds of it, we can actually go to the games. That’s a good thing. Watching a Flames game at Winsport or Red Deer or wherever sounds kinda cool, but it’s only cool in the same way that watching a KISS concert would be cool (as in…uh, it wouldn’t).

I won’t lie, I love the Saddledome. The flooding we went through as a city this past June was devestating, but the news of the Dome being underwater is what really made the whole thing hit home for me (that, and because no one I knew personally was evacuated from their home, thankfully). It’s not a particularly nice building on the inside, but it boasts a certain character if you really get the chance to look around. It’s going to be swell to actually sit in those seats in the press level and buy beer from the nosebleed beer vendor that I still can’t actually believe exists.

And hey, we know about the goal song being changed. Let’s all take the time to recognize how vital that’s going to be for all of our collective psyche’s this year (assuming they don’t blow it and go with like a Wolfmother song or something)

The Flames’ retro thirds are going to be cheap all season long. Buy them. It’s dumb that they’re getting rid of them, but hey, I just got one for $40 with Iggy’s name on the back (OF COURSE I’D STILL WEAR AN IGGY JERSEY ARE YOU KIDDING ME HE’S STILL PERFECT).

And so forth. It’ll be a trying year for the faithful Flames fans, we all know it, but I hope that doesn’t discourage you from going to the games and having a good time. If you were on the fence and thinking about hibernating through hockey until the team starts showing signs of life again, hopefully I’ve been able to sway you a bit with some of these admittedly hairbrained ideas presented here today.

Go Flames Go. Sven forever.

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