The sea of red were just words to me before Wednesday.
So much so, I actually learned it’s ‘C of Red’ in honour of the flaming C Calgary has on the front of their jersey.
Sure, I’d seen Calgary Flames games on TV before but the scope of the Flames fan rallying cry was never clear.
From corner to corner inside the Saddledome, outside the arena and even in the bar before the game, you were hard pressed to find a fan without a Flames jersey on at game 4 in their Stanley Cup playoff series with Anaheim. Not just wearing red, but proudly displaying a Gaudreau or Monahan jersey.
There’s imitators of the ‘C’, like the whiteout in Winnipeg and the yellow-out or whatever Nashville is trying to do, but nothing is quite like what they do in Calgary.
Full confession, I’ve only ever been to one NHL playoff game before, with two teams playing I had zero allegiances to, back in 2011 when Buffalo hosted the Philadelphia Flyers. Wednesday night was my second, I’m not a Flames fan, but passionate enthusiast of the playoff hockey tradition. That and my hometown team usually makes a habit of missing the playoffs. But I digress.
I was lucky enough to attend the 2014 NHL Winter Classic and that game had more than 100,000 people in attendance but the atmosphere in Calgary Wednesday rivalled even that.
Of course, the game got off to the worst possible start, after an electric “Go Flames Go” chant rocked the house before the national anthem.
Brain Elliot allowed a weird-angle goal by Patrick Eaves just 5:38 into the game, which led to one of the most bizarre moments I’ve ever seen in hockey.
Elliott was yanked in favour of Chad Johnson after only facing three shots. Elliot played awful in the series and many speculated the Flames should have started Johnson to begin with in Game 4.
Johnson, a product of Calgary Minor Hockey is a fan favourite and drew one of the loudest cheers of the night when he entered the game. Unfortunately, the crowd was quickly silenced when he allowed a goal just over a minute after he came in. From there he stopped 18 shots and held the Flames in it until the very end.
The ‘C of Red’, for all their passion, also yelled one of the loudest collective “SHOOT” I’ve ever witnessed. So vocal, that even in a post period interview on the Jumbotron, one of the Flames forwards acknowledged the advice from the enthusiastic Calgary faithful.
When the Flames scored on the power play late in the second period the building erupted and there was hope again, even if it was fleeting. The fans wanted so bad to will their team to win, more than I’ve ever seen a fan base do before.
They waited with baited breath in the third period, shot after shot turned aside by Ducks goalie John Gibson, it was right there for the taking and the fans rose up at every opportunity.
Hope was lost and dreams were crushed when Ryan Getzlaf slipped the puck into the empty net late. But that wasn’t the way anybody at the Saddledome wanted the season to be remembered.
It ended instead with a serenade of more “Go Flames Go” as the players partook in the annual series-ending handshake tradition. The fans didn’t want to go home, they wanted to stay united like old friends at a high school reunion coming together after years away.
They didn’t throw their jerseys on the ice, they wore them proudly out of the arena and left jovially despite their team being swept four straight games by the Ducks.
The breaks didn’t exactly go the Flames way in the series, but the ‘C’ made the most of their two games in Calgary.