Story by Jody Robbins
CALGARY, ALBERTA — This NHL season may be short and so, too, are the memories of Calgary Flames fans. More tickets were sold within six hours of being released in 2013 than in the first two days at the start of the last regular season. Time does, apparently, heal everything, as only 100 season-ticket holders out of 15,000 released their rights back to the hockey team.
Euphoric Post-lockout Atmosphere in Calgary
“I’m excited now. I really didn’t care about the NHL back in the fall. But the World Juniors got everybody back in the hockey mood,” admits Flames fan Trent Williamson.
He was among the sea of red that flocked to the Scotiabank Saddledome on Sunday afternoon for the season-opener against the San Jose Sharks.
Cheers from the crowd of 19,289 erupted during the pre-game warm-up, with the loudest reserved for rising star Sven Baertschi, in addition to the usual favourites, goalie Miikka Kiprusoff and captain Jarome Iginla. Players threw glowing red balls to the crowd after introductions, and the fans inserted their ritual “C” “of” “red” shouts during the Star Spangled Banner.
Running on the emotions from the home crowd, the Flames were on fire with 16 shots on goal versus the Sharks’ nine attempts in the first period. When one puck found the San Jose mesh 12 minutes into the game, flames (literally) lit up the ‘Dome thanks to right winger Lee Stempniak. Fans had been waiting all winter to feel that heat.
“That first period had the best 10 minutes of hockey we’ve seen in the past few years,” says Flames fan Stan Howe.
That’s all the offence the Flames had on their first night back, though. The Sharks responded with four straight goals and won, 4-1. Though disappointed at the result, the Flames clung to the performance in the opening 20 minutes as a sign of hope.
“The first period was our period,” Iginla said. “We had chances tonight. They took it away.”
But this loss was easier for fans to take than most others. Simply having hockey back is reason for euphoria.
“We just want the Flames to make the playoffs. Sixteen teams make it and the fans of those teams will forgot all about the lockout. The fans of the other 14 teams who don’t make it can blame it on the lockout,” says Williamson, who, like most hockey followers, has quickly exchanged complaints about the labour stoppage with fantasies of the postseason and a Stanley Cup run.
At the end of the game, San Jose officially won, but by the joy on the faces inside the ‘Dome, I’d say it was the fans.
Cost of a Calgary Flames Game
Ticket prices range from $40 in the nose-bleed section in the upper deck to a whooping $519 to get close enough to see the sweat on the players’ faces.
Parking can be had for as low as $5 if you’re willing to walk a few blocks, or up to $30 for valet service.
Programs are no longer offered, but free rosters are handed out to fans who want to keep score.
As part of a welcome-back initiative, half-price merchandise, food and drinks are offered during the first two home games. Game two is Monday versus the Anaheim Ducks.
Flames fans are partial to hot dogs ($4.25), popcorn ($5.25), nachos ($7.50) and the 18-ounce Budweiser ($8), nicknamed locally as heroin beer. Fans claim ‘Dome foam is stronger than regular Bud, but concession staff insist this isn’t true. Of course, bottled and canned beer can also be had to guarantee your alcohol content.
Visitor Information for Calgary Hockey Fans
Nobody is happier to have hockey back than the hotels and restaurants who depend on Canada’s game to bring in fans from out of town. The hospitality industry survived a slow fall, and are eager to please the faithful who turn a usually quiet downtown area into a bustling Red Mile every home game. Sunday night, the Flames’ following was dominant, but when NHL fan favourites like the Toronto Maple Leafs or Montreal Canadiens show up, visitor jerseys crowd Calgary hotels and bars as those teams’ loyal (and patient) fans swarm the area.
There are several places close to the Saddledome to get into the festive spirit on game nights. Bar C serves up six oysters washed down with a glass of sparkling wine on tap for only $15 until the puck drops, while Bottlescrew Bill’s offers $13.95 Budweiser jugs (60 oz) and $9.95 FLAME-broiled quarter-pound burgers during every game. And Melrose Cafe & Bar coined the term the Red Mile — you can never go wrong with a pre- or post-game brew there.
To fully take advantage of the infectious spirit, stay over at Hotel Arts, a 175-room boutique hotel steps from the Saddledome.
Location: Hotel Arts, 119 12 Ave., S.W., Calgary, AB (see map below for directions to the arena)
Contact: 403-266-4611; www.hotelarts.ca; email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Starting Room Rates: from $129 per night
More Information: Visit the Calgary Flames’ official website.