- Ice hockey in Calgary
The history of
ice hockeyin Calgary, Alberta, Canada, extends back well over a century to the first recorded ice hockey game in Alberta. Imported from eastern Canada, the game's popularity rapidly grew in the city, with teams at every level playing for and capturing Canada's national championships. Calgary is known today as one of Canada's best ice hockey cities with the Calgary Flamesand Calgary Hitmenreceiving immense support from the city. The Calgary Oval X-Tremeis one of the most dominant women's ice hockey teams in the country, while Junior A ice hockey is also well supported with two teams in the city. Calgary is home to the Mac's AAA midget hockey tournament, one of the most prestigious midget hockey tournaments in the world which has seen dozens of future NHLers play in this city before their professional careers began.
The first recorded ice hockey game in Alberta took place in Calgary on
January 4, 1893between two city teams: the "Town Boys" and the "Tailors". The game was played with seven players aside and the Town Boys won 4-1. Shortly after, the Town Boys met a challenge from a team of Northwest Mounted Policeofficers, losing 4-0 before avenging the defeat in a rematch. [ [http://www.oilersheritage.com/history/early_teams_calgary_teams.html Edmonton Oilers History, Early History, Calgary teams - accessed September 17, 2006] ]
In 1898, the first "
Battle of Alberta" took place in Edmonton, as the Edmonton Thistlesfaced a team made up of members of the Calgary fire brigade. The match turned violent and a brawl saw Calgary's E.D. Marshall lose an eye in a stick swinging incident. [ [http://www.oilersheritage.com/history/early_events_battle_alberta.html Edmonton Oilers History, Battle of Alberta - accessed September 17, 2006] ]
Major professional ice hockey arrived in the prairies in the 1921 with the formation of the
Western Canada Hockey League. The Calgary Tigersbrought five future Hockey Hall of Fameplayers to the city in Barney Stanley, Red Dutton, Rusty Crawford, Herb Gardinerand Harry Oliver. During the Tigers' six year run, they captured three regular season titles and two playoff championships. In 1924, the Tigers challenged the National Hockey League's Montreal Canadiensfor the Stanley Cup. The Tigers lost, however, in two straight games with scores of 6-1 and 3-0, Howie Morenzscoring a hat-trickin the first game and another goal in the second for the Canadiens. [ [http://www.legendsofhockey.net:8080/LegendsOfHockey/jsp/SilverwareTrophyWinner.jsp?tro=STC&year=1923-24 Legendsofhockey.net 1924 Stanley Cup playoffs - accessed September 17, 2006] ] It was nearly sixty years before Calgary again challenged for ice hockey's holy grail. The Tigers ceased operations in 1927, succumbing to the costs of maintaining an all-star lineup. Following the demise of the Tigers, no major professional club would emerge in Calgary until the 1975 arrival of the World Hockey Association.
In the year following
World War II, the Calgary Stampeders brought home Calgary's first, and only, Allan Cupnational senior championship with a four games to one series victory over the Hamilton Tigers. The 1945-46 Stampeders were a powerhouse club, compiling a record of 42-9-5, culminating in a 1-0 victory in the fifth and deciding game against Hamilton, played before a sold-out crowd of over 6,000 at the Edmonton Gardensin Edmonton. [ [http://www.collectionscanada.ca/hockey/024002-119.01-e.php?uid=5256&uidc=DOTS_ID&sk=&query_string=adf%3DTRUE%26adq%255B0%255D%255Bcol%255D%3DDecade%26adq%255B0%255D%255Bq%255D%3D1940-1949%26adq%255B0%255D%255BboolOp%255D%3D%26maxRslts%3D500 Clever team effort brings Allan Cup to Calgary, Calgary Herald, April 29, 1946; retrieved from www.collectionscanada.ca on September 17, 2006] ] The Stampeders cwonree Western Canada Senior Hockey Leaguetitles in the league's six year run.
After having a new arena, the
Stampede Corral,built for them in 1950, the Stampeders turned professional in 1951, spending the next twelve years in the Western Hockey League, which was at the time the top professional circuit in the west. The Stampeders won the 1954 WHL championship in Calgary. [ [http://calgarypubliclibrary.com/calgary/historic_tours/corner/stcorrl.htm Calgary Public Library retrospective on the Stampede Corral] ] The team folded in 1963 after succumbing to the financial pressures of operating in such a widespread league.
Junior ice hockey
Alberta Junior Hockey League
Junior ice hockey in Alberta began to take shape in 1963 when the
Alberta Junior Hockey Leaguewas formed, partially to check the dominance of the Edmonton Oil Kings at the time. The five team loop featured two teams from Calgary - the Calgary Cowboys and Calgary Buffaloes. The Buffaloes were the early powerhouse of the league, winning the AJHL's first two championships in 1964 and 1965. The two teams struggled against the Western Canada Hockey League, however, and in 1965, the Cowboys merged with the Buffaloes before folding altogether in 1969.
The AJHL returned to Calgary in 1971 when the
Calgary Canuckswas formed. The Canucks was the brainchild of Doug Eastcott, and was created as an outlet to give Calgary area youngsters a place to play without sacrificing their education. Acting as an extension of the Calgary minor hockey association, the Canucks restricted themselves to only three out-of-town players for many years. The Canucks have become one of the most dominant clubs in the AJHL, having won nine AJHL championships, two Doyle Cups and, led by Dany Heatley, the Centennial Cup in 1995 as Canadian Tier II national champions. Nearly 50 former Canucks have gone on to play in the NHL, including Heatley, Mike Vernon, Jason Smith, Doug Houdaand Craig Adams.
In 1978, a second team in Calgary was added as the
Calgary Chinooksrelocated from Pincher Creek. The team became the Spurs two years later, but never found the same success as the Canucks. In 1990, the Spurs ceased operations; however their assets were purchased by a new ownership group that rebranded the club the Calgary Royals. The Royals captured their single AJHL title in their inaugural season, but have failed to repeat that success.
Western Hockey League
Three years after the arrival of the AJHL, another league, the Western Canada Junior Hockey League was formed. It was considered a "rebel league" by the
Canadian Hockey Association, and thus not permitted to play for the Memorial Cup. The seven team loop featured five teams that defected from the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey Leaguealong with the Edmonton Oil Kings, and an expansion team for Calgary, the Calgary Buffaloes. The Buffaloes were dismal in the league's inaugural season in 1966-67 season, finishing just 4-47-5. The franchise renamed itself the Calgary Centennialsthe following year, and had moderate success in the mid-1970s, winning three division titles and reaching the league finals once. It relocated to Billings, Montanain 1977 to become the Billings Bighorns. That franchise continues today as the Tri-City Americans. Future NHLers John Davidson, Bob Nystromand Mike Rogers played for the Centennials.
The Centennials were immediately replaced by the
Calgary Wranglers, who relocated from Winnipeg, Manitoba. Like the Centennials, the Wranglers never became a top team in the league, though they did reach the finals in 1980-81. Declining interest in the team because of the popularity of the Calgary Flamesled to the Wranglers moving south to Lethbridge, Albertain 1987 to become the Lethbridge Hurricanes. Doug Houda, Kelly Kisio, Dana Murzynand former Flames head coach Jim Playfairare among the former Wranglers who made the NHL.
Despite a long standing belief that major-junior ice hockey could not compete with the professionals, the WHL again placed a team in Calgary in 1995. The
Calgary Hitmenwere owned by, among others, Theoren Fleury, Joe Sakicand Bret Hart, after whom the team was named. The Hitmen created an immediate controversy with their logo, featuring a stylized " Jason Vorhees" type mask and distinctive pink and grey jersey colours. Despite its immense popularity, the WHL initially forbade the Hitmen from using the logo, deeming the look too violent, but relented a year later. [ [http://www.brethart.com/column/april30-2004.asp brethart.com, reprint of a Calgary Sun article by Bret Hart on the Hitmen jersey controversy.] ] The Hitmen currently use an updated version of the original logo.
The Hitmen were abysmal in their first two seasons, winning just 33 games combined. The team also faced further controversy when head coach Graham James resigned after being charged with, and later convicted of, sexually abusing two of his players when he was with the
Swift Current Broncos. [ [http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.com/index.cfm?PgNm=TCE&Params=M1ARTM0011058 Hockey Coach Guilty of Sexual Assault] , "MacLean's" January 13, 1997. Reproduced on thecanadianencyclopedia.com. Accessed October 14, 2006] In 1997, the Hitmen were purchased by the Calgary Flames. The team's fortunes improved immediately, as the Hitmen won their division in 1997-98, and the following season, the Hitmen captured the league championship in just their fourth season. The Hitmen advanced all the way to the 1999 Memorial Cuptitle game before losing in overtime to the host Ottawa 67's7-6 in a thrilling final.
The Hitmen have not managed to duplicate that success, but in recent years have showcased many good, young players who have helped Canada dominate the
World Junior Hockey Championship. Andrew Laddand Ryan Getzlafwere members of the dominating club that won gold in the 2005 tournament in Grand Forks, North Dakota, while goaltender Justin Poggeled Canada to a surprise defense of their championship in the 2006 tournament in Vancouver. Ladd also became the first Hitmen graduate to win the Stanley Cup, which he did with the Carolina Hurricanesin 2006.
The Hitmen have also become one of the most popular junior teams in Canada, leading the WHL in attendance four consecutive years, including a
Canadian Hockey Leaguethen-record average of 10,062 in 2004-05, the first junior team to ever average over 10,000 fans per game.
World Hockey Association
In 1971, a fledgling operation known as the
World Hockey Associationannounced its intention to compete against the NHLas North America's second major league. Among the original franchises announced for the league was the Calgary Broncos, who were to play out of the Stampede Corraland were expected to form a strong rivalry with the Edmonton Oilers. Although the Broncos participated in the first WHA draft, the franchise never played, folding prior to the WHA's inaugural season. Following the demise of the Broncos, the Oilers were renamed the Alberta Oilers, with the intention of splitting their home games between Calgary and Edmonton. Likewise, this plan failed to materialize and 'Alberta' was quickly dropped from the Oilers' name.
In 1975, the WHA finally did arrive in Calgary, as the Vancouver Blazers relocated to the Stampede City to become the
Calgary Cowboys. The Cowboys finished the 1975-76 season with a respectable 41-35-4 record, upsetting the Quebec Nordiquesin the playoffs before losing to the eventual Avco Cup champion Winnipeg Jets.
The Cowboys second season was the franchise's last, as dismal attendance and a team that missed the playoffs led to the franchise folding following the season. The entire league itself would follow two years later, with four teams merging into the NHL.
In 1980, the
National Hockey Leaguefinally arrived in Calgary, as a group, led by Nelson Skalbania, who purchased the Atlanta Flamesand relocated them north. The Calgary Flamesremain the only NHL franchise to relocate from the United Statesto Canada. The purchase price of UA$16 million was the highest ever paid for an NHL team at the time. The Flames first season in the raucous Stampede Corralwas a major success, as the team defeated both the Chicago Black Hawks and Philadelphia Flyersin the playoffs before being defeated themselves by the Minnesota North Starsin the league semi-finals.
In 1981, the Flames traded for
Lanny McDonald, then of the Colorado Rockies. McDonald's trademark moustache and his enthusiasm for the game defined the Flames throughout the 1980s. In 1982-83, McDonald battled young superstar Wayne Gretzkyfor the league goal scoring title for the entire season. McDonald's tally of 66 goals - still a franchise record - fell just five markers short of Gretzky's total of 71.
1986 saw the Flames run to the
Stanley Cupfinals, capturing the organization's first Campbell Bowl before bowing out to the Montreal Canadiensin five games in the finals. The 1985-86 season is best known for the Flames shocking seven game upset of the powerhouse Oilers in the Smythe Divisionfinals. The series winning goal was scored by Oilers' rookie defenseman Steve Smith - on his birthday - after he banked the puck into his own net off the skate of goaltender Grant Fuhr. The upset ended the Oilers' hopes of winning a third consecutive Stanley Cup. A decade later, Smith came to play for the Flames, eventually becoming team captain.
In 1989, the Flames captured their first, and only, Stanley Cup, avenging their loss in 1986 by defeating the Canadiens in six games. Despite dominating the league in 1988-89, winning the
President's Trophyas regular season champions, Calgary had to survive a major scare at the hands of the Vancouver Canucks, who despite finishing 43 points behind the Flames, took Calgary to overtime in the seventh game in the Smythe Division semi-finals. Calgary did not face serious competition in the rest of the playoffs, defeating the Kings, Blackhawks and Canadiens handily to capture Lord Stanley's Mug. McDonald, who scored his 500th goal and 1000th point during the season, retired following the season.
After winning the Cup, the Flames faced a long decline through the 1990s and into the 21st century. Declining fortunes on the ice, escelating salaries, a low
Canadian Dollarand management blunders saw the Flames fail to win a single playoff series following their Cup win until 2004, while the team missed the playoffs seven straight years between 1997 and 2003. On January 2, 1992, GM Doug Risebroughcompleted what is often regarded as one of the most lopsided trades in NHL history.. The deal - one of the largest in NHL history - catapulted the formerly inept Maple Leafs into years of being a contender, while hastening the decline of the Flames. Not a single player acquired by the Flames was still with the organization two years later. [ [http://www.calgarypuck.com/Patrick_060801.htm Fear and Loathing In Calgary, Calgarypuck.com, June 08, 2001] ]
The Flames finally emerged from their post-season drought in 2003-04. Led by coach/GM
Darryl Sutter, superstar forward Jarome Iginlaand the emerging goaltending star Miikka Kiprusoff, the Flames shocked the ice hockey world by becoming the first team to defeat three division winners "en route" to the Stanley Cup Finals. The defeats of the Vancouver Canucks, Detroit Red Wingsand San Jose Sharksturned the Cinderella Flames into national heroes, while the parties on the Red Milebecame international news. The Flames fell in the finals to the Tampa Bay Lightningin a hard-fought seven game series; however, the result was not without considerable controversy. To this day, a debate rages as to whether a Martin Gelinasshot late in the third period of game 6 fully crossed the goal line before being kicked back out by Lightning goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin. The play - which would have broken the tie in a game Tampa would later win in overtime to fend off elimination - was not immediately reviewed. [ [http://www.sptimes.com/2004/06/06/Lightning/One_last_shot.shtml One Last Shot, St. Pete Times, June 6, 2004] ]
The Flames followed up that season by winning their sixth division championship in 2005-06, but were beaten in the first round of the playoffs by the
Mighty Ducks of Anaheim.
Alberta Midget Hockey League
Calgary Junior Hockey League
List of ice hockey teams in Alberta
Mac's AAA midget hockey tournament
Sport in Calgary
* [http://www.ajhl.ca/history/history_1960s.php AJHL.ca history]
* [http://www.collectionscanada.ca/hockey/index-e.html Backcheck: A hockey retrospective]
* [http://www.oilersheritage.com/index2.html Edmonton Oilers Heritage]
*Calgary Canucks 2005-06 program
*2005-06 Western Hockey League Media Guide
*2006-07 Calgary Flames Media Guide
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