When hockey season opens in October, the excitement builds for Calgary’s NHL team, the Calgary Flames: debates start on the team’s chances for a Stanley Cup, new teammates are heatedly critiqued, season tickets are snatched up, and restaurant window signs announce game night specials.
Debuting in 1980 after moving to Canada from Atlanta, Georgia, the Calgary Flames played their first three years in the Stampede Corral, later moving into their current home, the 19,289-seater, saddle-shaped Pengrowth Saddledome (hence, the name).
They won their first Stanley Cup in 1989, quickly proving they were a team to be taken seriously with players like Al MacInnis and Lanny McDonald on the roster. Their momentum continued to build until 1996, when they were suddenly shut out of the playoffs for the next eight years. Then in the Cinderella-story year of 2004, they made an unexpected run to the finals, causing over 40,000 fans to celebrate on game nights along 17th Avenue—a frenzy that created the nickname “the Red Mile,” after the sea of red jerseys.
It’s an energy that has stayed vibrant: come mid-April the race for the Cup still inspires everyone from hotel doormen to oil and gas CEOs to sport Flames jerseys and attach a Flames flag to their car. To help you join in on the excitement we’ve gathered insider tips to make sure you have the best possible game experience—from getting tickets to scoring unique souvenirs to knowing where to head to after the game.GETTING TICKETS
Getting tickets can be difficult, often they sell out months in advance and plenty end up in the hands of scalpers. Be aware: there have been several instances where an unlucky fan thought they had scored great tickets, only to arrive at the arena to discover that the tickets had been cancelled. The best way to avoid this is to purchase tickets from Ticketmaster (403-777-0000), with prices ranging from $26 – $245, or from Flames Central, an entertainment venue owned by the team. The “Flames Central Action Pack” includes a game ticket at face value, a beer voucher and a shuttle to and from the game for $95. Another option is to purchase tickets from Sport Chek (403-255-2161) for $19.99—they are nose-bleeders but the excitement in the Saddledome is never isolated to just the expensive seats. The crowd up here tends to be social, loud and feisty.
There are plenty of great vantage points throughout the ‘Dome, but for an optimal view go for section 120; you will be at centre ice and right behind the penalty box. Section 104 is behind the Flames net for two periods, making this an ideal section for goalie Miikka Kiprusoff fans, while 108 is where the Flames enter the arena and often sign autographs for kids.
Once you have tickets, you’ll need a place to go for dinner before the game. Luckily the Saddledome is a 20-minute walk from 4th Street’s pub standards, ethnic eateries and upscale bistros. Also, with the south train line running right to the arena you have access to plenty of great meals in the downtown core. The Unicorn on 8th Avenue has been a favourite pre-game party for years, and has one of the city’s largest selection of specialty Caesars. Meanwhile, across the street from the Saddledome find casual eateries Ed’s and Embarcadero, and the more upscale Olives Restaurant, and Zias Enoteca. If you want to be really close to the action, located on the Terrace Level on the east side of the ‘Dome, the HSBC Saddleroom Restaurant offers a great menu prior to the game, with a view of the surrounding area on one side, and the arena on the other. For a true Albertan experience cut into the grilled Alberta beef filet mignon crusted with crushed espresso beans and peppercorn. Make reservations well ahead of time (403-777-3694)—depending on the game, the restaurant can fill up weeks in advance.
Be sure to pick up some game paraphernalia before the puck drops. Flames FanAttic is the official team store and offers items like authentic and specialty jerseys, coffee mugs, T-shirts, teddy bears, and golf clubs for spring. With several locations in Calgary including the Saddledome, FanAttic even carries Harvey the Hound hoodies for kids, pink Flames jerseys for women, and vintage jerseys from 1980 for men.
Here are three players to keep your eye on while they are on the ice.
The captain: Jarome Iginla, #12, Right Winger
Jarome Iginla became the captain of the Calgary Flames in the 2003-04 season. He has spent his entire professional career with Calgary and is the team’s all-time leader in goals scored and games played. He is also the first black captain in the National Hockey League’s history.
The goalie: Miikka Kiprusoff, #34, Goaltender
Joined the Flames in 2003 and holds Calgary’s record for having 10 shut outs in a single season. Born in Finland, he came to North America in 1999 and within seven years won the Vezina Trophy for the NHL’s best goaltender.
The newbie: Todd Bertuzzi, #7, Right Winger
Infamously known for assaulting Colorado Avalanche forward Steve Moore in an on-ice incident in 2004. Competed with Team Canada three times including the 2006 Winter Olympics. He caused controversy when it was announced that he would be joining the Calgary Flames this season.INTERMISSION
After each period there is a 20-minute break for flooding the ice. If you choose to stay in your seat, there is a variety of entertainment to watch and possibly participate in, including game shows where selected members of the crowd get a chance to win prizes like a fridge full of beer, a night on the town or cash. If you have the kids with you, keep an eye out for Harvey the Hound, the Flames mascot. During game time you will hear him banging his drum, initiating the “Go Flames Go!” chant, but when there’s no hockey action going on, it is a good chance to go say “hi.” This is also the time when washroom lines can get long; for the shortest line-ups head to the restrooms behind sections 113/115.
If you want to grab a snack, nachos, pizza, hotdogs, fries and burgers are available throughout the concessions from Pocketdawg. Boston Pizza and Time Out. Skyline Deli offers some healthier, non-deep-fried options like pulled pork, roasted turkey and beef-on-a-bun. There is also a Good Earth Café on-site for those who need extra caffeine if the game goes into overtime.
Sure every game has three stars, but in the opinion of most fans, the honourary fourth star goes to the lovingly, locally nicknamed “heroin beer.” For years Flames fans have said that the “barley pop” at the ‘Dome packs a stronger punch. But, truth be told, it’s the same Molson Canadian products available all over the city. At $7.25 for 16 ounces your options are Canadian, Coors Light, Rickard’s Red and Rickard’s Honey Brown. If you don’t want to miss any of the action, the “Beer Guy” makes rounds through the stands with cans for $7.
Harvey the Hound was introduced in 1984, making him the first mascot of the NHL. On the night of his “inauguration,” both Lanny McDonald and Doug Risebrough scored hat tricks, and since then Harvey has been a part of the team. He grabbed headlines in early 2003 when his tongue was ripped out and thrown to the crowd by Edmonton Oilers coach Craig MacTavish, after taunting the team from behind the bench.
POST GAME HOT SPOTS
Whether the Flames are victorious or not, there is still plenty of reason to go out after the game. Several casinos are within walking distance of the venue, including the recently re-opened Stampede Casino, and the Elbow River Casino.
The Red Mile may not be packed with 40,000 cheering fans, but with over 20 bars and restaurants to choose from along 17th Avenue, it shouldn’t be too difficult to spot a suitable place to celebrate. Be sure to check out The Yardhouse, Watchman’s or The Ship & Anchor Pub.
IF YOU CAN’T GET TICKETS
“The” place to be during the 2004 playoffs, with four big screens, a 10-foot projection screen and martinis served in your own shaker, this fan hot spot has earned its place at the heart of the Red Mile.
This casual pub in the heart of Calgary has a laid-back vibe and over 150 kinds of beer. On game nights, there are specials on draft beer and burgers, and they give away two Flames tickets each game night.
Partly owned by the Flames and housed in a former theatre, Flames Central has been the fans home away from the Saddledome. With a state-of-the-art stereo system and 150 LCD flat screen televisions, this could be an even better seat than the nosebleeds.—Ryan Duncan