Goosebumps and goodwill as NHL hockey returns to Calgary after long lockout
Flames players excited to be playing again but bummed over opening-day defeat
With the end of his withdrawal pains mere minutes away, a lone male voice cried out Sunday night during the American national anthem at the Scotiabank Saddledome.
“Drop the puck,” the unknown fan screamed over the sound of the Star Spangled Banner. “Drop the puck!”
After a brief pre-game ceremony complete with red glow sticks and a player salute to the fans at centre ice, the puck indeed dropped at 4:15 p.m. to officially end the 113-day NHL lockout in Calgary. There was no “King’s Speech” from team president Ken King, and instead a “we’re grateful for your support this season and every season,” from public address announcer Beesley.
Hockey at the highest level is back.
“One of the things the lockout did, maybe especially for a veteran player, is make you appreciate so much what we do for a living and just how much fun this is on many different levels,” raved right wing Michael Cammalleri. “I’m somewhat euphoric to be back playing.”
Don’t get Cammalleri wrong. He bemoaned the two points the Flames let slip in a 4-1 loss to the San Jose Sharks. He preached the importance of capitalizing on opportunities and sticking with the game plan for all three periods.
But stepping back to look at the big picture, Cammalleri marvelled over the scene at the Saddledome after such a long time away.
“It’s the whole thing,” he said. “It’s, as far as I’m concerned, the best job in the world. In our job, you’ve got camaraderie, you’ve got friendship, and you’ve got bonds. You’re fit, playing a sport you love. Your family and friends are all engaged in it.
“It’s a tremendous way to live a lifetime.”
Defenceman Cory Sarich echoed those sentiments.
“It’s what we live for,” the 33-year-old bruiser said.
The customary sellout crowd of 19,289 pretty much roared through the entire first period as the Flames worked the faithful into a frenzy. Lee Stempniak opened the scoring by rifling a shot over goaltender Antti Niemi.
The local heroes came close over and over, with Steve Begin nailing the cross bar and Sven Baertschi ripping one off the pose.
San Jose roared back with four unanswered goals to take Game 1 by a score of 4-1.
“It was great to be back,” said forward Patrick Marleau, the author of two San Jose goals. “Even though it was their home opener, just to be in the rink and having fans cheering for you was something special.”
Sharks winger T.J. Galiardi grew up in these parts, so opening night at the Dome proved extra special.
“Whenever you play in Calgary, it’s always pretty electric,” said the Calgary Hitmen product. “You saw the way they started. The first 10 minutes, they were all over us. I think they fed off the crowd.”
And fun to be able to watch.
“Everybody’s relieved that hockey’s back,” said San Jose centre Joe Thornton. “(Saturday) night, it kind of felt like playoffs were going to start because we were all gathered around, watching hockey.
“It was a little bit strange but it feels real good to be back.”
Like for many of his hockey-playing brethren, the lockout gave Flames centre Mikael Backlund a chance to realize all over again how good he has it in the NHL.
“I got goosebumps,” Backlund said of the deafening reception. “It’s awesome to be back. Going over to Europe to play in the lower levels without as many fans, you really learn how much you appreciate it being here. ... I learned in Sweden to be more appreciative and not be too comfortable.”
Comfortable is not the word to describe the first night as a full-time NHLer for Baertschi, the No. 1 prospect in the Flames organization.
A blast of nervous energy is more like it.
“You totally could tell as soon as the players walked in today that there was a lot of excitement about hockey,” said the Swiss-born Baertschi. “Hockey’s back now.
“It’s Canada’s sport. If you take it away from them, people don’t like it.”
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