<table border=0 align=center width=80%><tr><td><img src=http://cdn.nhl.com/canucks/images/upload/2007/09/macri_headshot.jpg border=0 align=left vspace=1 hspace=4>It’s Friday night and I’m attempting to match my cousin stride for stride over ice-patched city streets. His gait sporadically breaks in out and of a race-walk as we march through the mudded remnants of what would be a grass boulevard, had it not been the middle of February. A curved roof appears through breaks in the mottled architectural horizon, then disappears behind a billboard advertising a discount motel chain. As we cross over one block East, we’re joined by dozens of people, all of whom seem to possess the same hurried shuffle as my cousin. Most of them are paired off, and almost all of them don the same coloured shirt: a crimson red broken up by strips of black and yellow. It’s 6:58 pm, and I’m headed towards the belly of the beast: Calgary’s Pengrowth Saddledome. I’m behind enemy lines, and here, for the first time, is my account of the events.
Even though the Flames are taking on the Red Wings, I manage to manufacture some legitimate interest in the fact that the Canucks are currently deadlocked with Calgary in the standings. A familiar twinge of game-day anxiousness grows in my stomach as my cousin (an unfortunately die-hard Flames fan) and I enter a long, concrete corridor leading to the arena’s entrance. As we pass display cases featuring hay-infused tributes to Alberta’s agricultural industry, the wide arena concourse comes into view in the distance. Several differences are apparent, the most immediate of which is the fact that the concourse is lit like a nightclub. It’s dark enough that I’m somewhat spared the inevitable disdain for some of the clone-like gentleman that surround me, as it’s difficult to make out any definite shapes, let alone faces. In the reflective glow of the concession stands, it appears as they’re all roughly 21 years of age and, if I had to guess, named Ty (my apologies if your name is Ty - I’m sure you’re wonderful).
<img src=http://cdn.nhl.com/redwings/images/upload/2008/02/Untitled-20_thumb.jpg border=0 align=right vspace=1 hspace=4></a>Each Ty sports a hat that is placed atop his head in a position so precarious that I fear even the fainted cross-wind might send the headwear careening down into the dim depths of the concourse, never to be seen again. Of course, it’s completely possible that the half-pound of hair gel streaked through their frosted tips is acting as some sort of adhesive agent, so the hats might actually be hurricane-proof. My favourite Ty is wearing a freshly-pressed Jim Vandermeer jersey. He might be a relative, or more likely a guy with more money than brains, but I quietly pray to any God who will listen that the newly-acquired depth defenseman doesn’t last the season with his new team, just so this one jersey is rendered completely ridiculous.
As we navigate through the late-arriving crowd, there are several groups of people huddled around central figures wearing referees’ jerseys. My first pang of jealousy strikes when it’s revealed that the figure is pouring tall boys into plastic cups – the Saddledome has roaming beer vendors. My cousin locks eyes with one of the vendors in such a manner that I consider staging a quasi-intervention on the spot, but before I know it, he’s leading the way to our seats, beer in hand. If the Calgary arena wins points for its portable beer dispensers, it loses some for décor. With more road signs affixed to the walls than a Midwestern Fudrucker’s, the Saddledome comes off like that 46 year-old father of three who wears a backwards baseball hat and awkwardly attempts various hand gestures while listening to his Will Smith CD - trying hard to convey a particular attitude, but just falling short. As we approach our section, I spot a poster featuring Calgary Hitmen-alum Ryan Getzlaf beside a “Yield” sign and wonder if it went up before or after the Anaheim Ducks beat the Flames in their 2006 playoff series.
My second inspiration of jealousy comes in the form of the Saddledome’s seats. Unlike the “cozy” (read: cramped) seating of GM Place, there’s plenty of leg room to accommodate my estimated nine foot frame (I may be off by a couple of inches).
<img src=http://cdn.nhl.com/flames/images/upload/2008/02/Untitled-4_thumb.jpg border=0 align=left vspace=1 hspace=4></a>As the puck drops to start the game, I take a moment to look around the arena in an effort to fully digest the atmosphere. Sitting behind me and to the left, I spot a couple of characters whom I immediately recognize as being “those guys” (for my avid reader(s?), a callback, of sorts). Minutes later, a call from behind, “Hey Filpulla (#51), get a real number!” Scattered laughter rises up over our section, evidently bathing our commentator in a mist of pride in a job well done - as minutes later, another witty barb shoots past me towards the ice, “Hey Franzen (#93), get a real number!” I stop counting after the fourth iteration. Well played, That Guy. Well played.
The crowd is mostly silent for the better part of the first period, until Alex Tanguay banks one in off of Chris Osgood for the game’s first and only goal. A burst of flames shoot forth from what looks like a suitcase hanging over the ice, hitting me with a wave of heat so strong that it could probably warm my cousin’s beer to room temperature, provided that the flame was kept alit for at least an hour (that doesn’t seem so impressive now that I write it out).
The game itself ends up not being quite as good as our first-intermission nachos (a tangy affair, with jalapeno peppers that offset the cheese in a rather cheeky manner), as the stand-in good guys go down in defeat (this is alleviated somewhat by a 4-1 drubbing by the real good guys the following night). As it is Kiprusoff’s first shutout in almost a year, I am deemed to be a good luck charm for the Flames, despite my most ardent of protests. The disappointment I usually experience from a Flames’ win is only magnified when I’m sitting but a mere few feet from the travesty; but really, that mattered little, as I got to watch and talk some hockey with someone who knows the sport even better than I. Thanks for the game, Noel. The Flames still suck.