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I'll Hate Calgary Next Year

I've fallen in love with the Flames. Does that make me a traitor to the Canucks?

Mark Leiren-Young 7 Jun

Mark Leiren-Young is a writer/director/performer who spends too much of his free time worrying about the environment, the Canadian political scene, and the Vancouver Canucks (not necessarily in that order). Mark won the Leacock Medal for Humour for his comic memoir, Never Shoot a Stampede Queen: A Rookie Reporter in the Cariboo. He was a finalist for the WGC Award for screenwriting for his first feature film, The Green Chain. His most recent book, This Crazy Time, was written with/about controversial environmentalist, Tzeporah Berman. He's half of the satirical duo Local Anxiety. Their latest comedy CD, Greenpieces, is available on iTunes and their 21st century version of O Christmas Tree is becoming a holiday favourite thanks to The Tyee.

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Otto kicked it in.

For anyone who doesn't remember or doesn't understand why Canucks fans hate the Flames with the same rabid intensity as an Edmontonian mourning the lost year of their dynasty…

April 15, 1989, Game seven. 39 seconds left in the first overtime. Joel Otto kicks in the puck, the referee pretends the skate was a stick and the final score is 4-3. The Flames win Lord Stanley's mug and the Canucks wait five long years to watch Kirk McLean crush Calgary's Cup dreams.

Ever since 1989, hating the Flames -- and taunting Theo Fleury, mocking Lanny MacDonald's moustache or heckling anyone else from the oilpatch -- has been as much a part of being a Canucks fan as bitching about the way Hockey Night in Canada covers our team.

For fans too young to hate the Flames for 1989, Jarome Iginla, Miikka Kiprusoff and a team of nobodies who barely made the playoffs, faces off against our team of All-Stars, World Cup heroes and Olympians, taunts us with a miraculous last second comeback in game 7 and then… Iginla to Gelinas to the golf course…  Suddenly, a whole new generation of Flame-haters was born.

Maybe we didn't deserve to win the series after Marc Crawford's bizarre mind-games with our goalies, or blowing a four goal lead in game six, or being out-coached, out-played and out-classed in our home arena -- but when Matt Cooke tied the game with five seconds to spare to take the game into overtime… that's the stuff of Stanley Cup legends.

But the hockey Gods and the Flames were just toying with us and to add injury to injury, it was an ex-Canuck -- one of our heroes of '94 -- who broke our hearts.

The irresistible Iginla

Ever since I was a kid I've always cheered for any Canadian team playing an American team - except the Flames. I could never cheer for the Flames.

Until this year.

Back when the Flames started taking on Detroit, friends treated me like a traitor. "How can you cheer for the Flames," they'd ask. And they'd say the word "Flames" the way a Canucks fan is supposed to - like it has a bad taste and a worse odour.

"Two words," I'd reply, "Jarome Iginla."

If that wasn't enough, I'd remind them that without Iginla, Canada probably wouldn't have celebrated our first Olympic Gold in men's hockey since Gordie Howe played junior. Iginla is the best spokesman NHL hockey has had since Wayne Gretzky retired. And if he can stay at the level he's been at since getting Brian Burke fired, he may be the best player the NHL has seen since Mario Lemieux retired… the first time.

Trevor's brand of hockey…in Calgary?

But the more games I watched, the more I realized I was lying. I wasn't just cheering for Iginla. I was remembering how heroically Gelinas played in that ugly Canucks jersey. I was watching Kiprusoff make the kind of saves Canucks fans have been dreaming of since McLean in 1994.

I was loving Darryl Sutter saying the type of things into microphones that get most coaches fired and loving that instead of going into a sulk, whichever player he called out seemed to go out the next night and play the game of his life. I was loving that this team was playing the same type of hockey that defined Stan Smyl and still defines Trevor Linden - the type of hockey that made Canada fall in love with the Canucks in 1982.

By the end of the Detroit series I had to admit it, I wasn't just cheering for Iginla anymore. I was cheering for the Flames.

It's heresy, I know

As I've reminded friends from Edmonton who find themselves in the unenviable position of having to justify rooting for a Stanley Cup for Tampa Bay - which seems even more criminal than a Grey Cup in Baltimore -- Canucks fans are the only ones in Canada with a valid excuse for hating the Flames this year. It's impossible not to look at them playing for the Cup and thinking: "We kill off that penalty in the first minute of overtime and we're the ones planning the parade route and booking the riot squad."

I've loved the Canucks since Orland Kurtenbach was captain and while I know that what I'm about to write is heresy… every other season when the Canucks were eliminated from the playoffs I believed, with the devout faith of a true fan, that even if they were out-played, our team tried harder and wanted it more. After every other playoff loss I can think of - and I remember them all -- everyone on the Canucks looked battered, spent and broken-hearted.

All of the Canucks looked battered, spent and broken-hearted this year too … for the two weeks following Todd Bertuzzi's suspension.

But when the Flames ended the season less than a minute into overtime, by the time the TV cameras hit the dressing room, a lot of Canuck players looked pretty darn relieved that the year was finally over.

Calgary wanted it more

I'm not saying the Canucks didn't want to win the series, but I think that man for man, the Flames wanted it more.

I think they wanted it more than the Red Wings, more than the Sharks and more than the Lightning. And even if you think I'm wrong - tell me the people of Calgary don't want the Cup more than the people of Tampa Bay.

Heart aside, this isn't some fluky run - okay, it was clearly a fluke that they beat the Canucks - but since then they've taken the toughest route to the Cup of any team in years. They've knocked off the first, second and third seed in the West to take on the number one seed in the East.

The Stanley Cup shouldn't even be allowed to be displayed in Florida. It could melt. We can't let them keep it there.

Go Flames Go.

Bring the Cup home to Canada.

I'll hate you again next season.

Mark Leiren-Young is a screenwriter, playwright and journalist. His last piece for The Tyee was on Svend Robinson's mea culpa.  [Tyee]

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