Before You Go. Aside from Edmonton's Rexall Place, no arena in the NHL is further north than the Saddledome -- indeed, aside from each Alberta city's CFL stadium, no venue in North American sports is further north except Rexall Place. And this is late November. It will be cold. The Calgary Herald is predicting that temperatures will be in the mid-30s by day and the low 20s by night. Bundle up.
This is Canada, so you will need your passport. You will need to change your money. At this writing, US$1.00 = C$1.32, and C$1.00 = US 75 cents. And I advise you to call your bank and let them know that you will be in a foreign country, so they won't see credit or debit card purchases from a foreign country pop up and think your card has been stolen.
Also, remember that they use the metric system. A speed limit of 100 kilometers per hour means 62 miles an hour. And don't be fooled by the seemingly low gas prices: That's per liter, not per gallon, and, in spite of Canada being a major oil-producing nation, you'll actually be paying more for gas up there. So, in order to avoid both confusion and "sticker-shock," get your car filled up before you reach the border.
Calgary is in the Mountain Time Zone, so they are 2 hours behind New York and New Jersey. Adjust your timepieces accordingly.
Tickets. The Flames averaged 19,097 fans per home game last season, nearly a sellout. As you might expect from a Canadian city. Tickets will be hard to get.
Seats in the lower level, the 100 sections, are $160 throughout. In the upper level, the 200 sections, they're $66 between the goals and $52 behind them. The uppermost level, labeled PL (for "Press Level"), has seats for $38. And since that comes from ticketmaster.ca, that's in Canadian dollars, so they're cheaper for you. And a lot cheaper than for the Edmonton Oilers.
Getting There. It's 2,385 miles from Times Square to downtown Calgary (158 miles from the closest border crossing, at Babb, Montana), and 2,376 miles from the Prudential Center in Newark to the Saddledome. It would be natural if your first thought would be to fly.
If you're driving, you'll need to get into New Jersey, and take Interstate 80 West. You'll be on I-80 for the vast majority of the trip, through New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Ohio. In Ohio, in the western suburbs of Cleveland, I-80 will merge with Interstate 90. From this point onward, you won’t need to think about I-80 until you head home; I-90 is now the key, through the rest of Ohio and Indiana.
Just outside Chicago, I-80 will split off from I-90, which you will keep, until it merges with Interstate 94. For the moment, though, you will ignore I-94. Stay on I-90 through Illinois, until reaching Madison, Wisconsin, where you will once again merge with I-94. Now, I-94 is what you want, taking it into Minnesota and the Twin Cities.
However, unless you want to make a rest stop actually in Minneapolis or St. Paul, you're going to bypass them entirely. Take Exit 249 to get on Interstate 694, the Twin Cities' beltway, until you merge with Interstate 494 to reform I-94. Crossing Minnesota and North Dakota, you'll take Exit 211 to Montana Route 200, and take that up to the town of Circle. There, you take Montana Route 13 until it splits and forms Montana Route 25. After just 6 miles, that takes a right turn in the town of Wolf Point, and then a quick left to U.S. Route 2 West. In Shelby, you'll leave US-2 for Interstate 15, and take that to the Canadian border.
Presuming you don't do anything stupid that makes Customs officials keep you out of Canada, I-15 will become Alberta Provincial Route 4. At Lethbridge, you'll turn onto Provincial Route 3 West. Take Provincial Route 23 to Provincial Route 519 to Provincial Route 2. From Route 2, take Exit 245 for Southland Drive, make a left on Southland, and then a quick right onto Blackfoot Trail. A left on 42nd Avenue and a right on MacLeod Trail, and you'll be at the edge of downtown Calgary, with the Saddledome on your right.
If you do it right, you should spend about an hour and a half in New Jersey, 5 hours and 15 minutes in Pennsylvania, 4 hours in Ohio, 2 and a half hours in Indiana, an hour and a half in Illinois, 2 and a half hours in Wisconsin, 4 and a half hours in Minnesota, 6 hours in North Dakota, 7 and a half hours in Montana, and 6 hours and 45 minutes in Alberta. That's 42 hours. Throw in rest stops, and we're talking closer to 56 hours -- 2 and one-third days. You'd have to really love both driving and hockey, and not mind cold weather, to do that.
Taking Greyhound takes 70 hours, and you have to transfer in Buffalo, Toronto and Winnipeg. Round-trip fare is $458, but it would drop to $438 with advanced purchase. The Greyhound station is at 850 16th Street NW at Bow Trail.
Forget the train: You'll have to switch from Amtrak to VIA Rail Canada in Toronto, take a train to Edmonton, and then take a bus to Calgary. Round-trip, it would take 8 days. No, the train is no good.
So flying is easily the best way to get there. You can fly Air Canada from Newark to Calgary and back, nonstop, for $1,052. Calgary International Airport was originally named McCall Field, after Frederick McCall, a Canadian flying ace of World War I.
Once In the City. At 1.1 million people, Calgary is the 3rd-largest city in Canada, behind Toronto and Montreal, and ahead of Vancouver and Edmonton. However, like most of Canada's larger cities, the huge amount of land area contained within its city limits means it has almost no suburbs, and its metropolitan area gives it only 1.2 million, 5th behind Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver and Ottawa -- but still ahead of Provincial capital Edmonton.
Founded in 1882 at the confluence of the Bow and Elbow Rivers, there is some dispute as to the origin of the name, although both accepted versions are Scottish in origin. Some say it's from the Gaelic meaning "beach of the meadow," or "pasture." Others say it comes from the words the Vikings brought to northern Scotland's Hebrides, meaning "cold garden."
The Bow River and, east of its bend, Memorial Drive separate Calgary addresses into North and South, while Centre Street separates them into East and West. The sales tax in the Province of Alberta is 5 percent, and it doesn't go up in the City of Calgary. The city has buses and a light rail system nicknamed CTrain, and a single fare is $3.00 (which works out to about $2.25, so it's less expensive than New York's).
CTrain downtown, with Calgary Tower in the background
The drinking age in Alberta is 18.
Going In. The Scotiabank Saddledome -- originally the Olympic Saddledome, and built in 1983 for the Flames and as the centerpiece of the 1988 Winter Olympics -- is at 555 Saddledome Rise SE, across Olympic Way from the Stampede Corral, site of the world's largest rodeo, the Calgary Stampede. It's about a mile and a quarter southeast of the downtown shopping district. If you're driving, parking is $10. (US$7.50.) If you're coming in by light rail, it's about a 12-minute ride to Victoria Park-Stampede station, and then you'll have to walk across a big parking lot to get to the arena, entering from the west.
Like the Capital Centre, the suburban Washington arena that was once home to the Bullets (now Wizards) and Capitals, it has a saddle-shaped roof; hence, the name "Saddledome." (Why a bank based in Nova Scotia, in Canada's eastern Maritime Provinces, bought the naming rights to a western arena, I have no idea.)
The rink is laid out north-to-south (I apologize for getting that wrong last year), and the Flames attack twice to the north end. The arena is also home to the minor-league Calgary Hitmen, and their rivalry with the Edmonton Oil Kings is nearly as intense as the "Battle of Alberta" between the Flames and the Oilers.
Food. There's not much information available online about Saddledome concession stands, but the arena's website mentions several onsite restaurants, including Dutton's Lounge, the Alumni Lounge and the King Club. The Saddleroom Restaurant is on the arena's east side (another thing I had wrong last year), and the Platinum Club on the west side (ditto), but these are open only to season-ticket holders, much like the Prudential Center's Fire Lounge and Ice Lounge.
According to the arena website, concessions include:
Time Out (Hot Dogs, Popcorn, Snacks)
Centre Ice (Hot Dogs, Popcorn, Snacks)
Spolumbos Italian Eatery
Mac Shack (Mac 'n Cheese)
Flame Broiled Burgers
The Dog House (Specialty Hot Dogs)
Cash or credit cards are accepted at all concession stands.
Team History Displays. All in a row, over the center red line, the Flames hang banners for their various championships and their retired numbers. The title banners including: The 1989 Stanley Cup; the 1986, 1989 and 2004 Conference Championships; the 1986, 1989, 1994, 1995 and 2006 Division titles; and the 1988 and 1989 President's Trophy for best overall record in the NHL regular season.
In 2012, the Flames organization introduced "Forever A Flame," to honor team legends while still allowing future Flames the opportunity to wear the numbers of some of the team's all-time greats -- essentially, a team hall of fame. Defenseman Al MacInnis was the 1st to earn this distinction, with a banner with his picture and the Number 2 raised to the rafters. Center Joe Nieuwendyk (who also won a Cup with the Devils) followed him, with a banner with his Number 25 on it. So that's 4 honorees, all from the 1989 Cup win.
There were no Flames named to The Hockey News' 100 Greatest Players in 1998, not even McDonald, Vernon or Gilmour. If THN were to do it again now, they might list Iginla or MacInnis.
There is no reference to the Flames' time in Atlanta (the name references the burning of Atlanta during the American Civil War), unless you count the "A" for Alternate Captain being the Flames' old A logo. (The "C" for Captain is the current C logo.) The Flames didn't win anything in Atlanta, so there are no banners to raise, although they did make the Playoffs there.
At the north end of the arena are Canadian and U.S. flags. At the south end are Canadian and British flags (Canada remains in the British Commonwealth), an Olympic flag, and a banner representing the 1988 Winter Olympics, for which the Saddledome and McMahon Stadium, home of the CFL's Stampeders, were the leading venues.
No members of the Team Canada that beat the Soviet Union in the 1972 "Summit Series" played for the Flames, in either Atlanta or Calgary. From the 1980 U.S. Olympic team that beat the Soviets and then Finland for the Gold Medal, Jim Craig played some of their final Atlanta games, while Steve Christoff played for them in Calgary.
Stuff. There is a Flames Fan Attic (as in "fanatic") team store at the Saddledome, although I can't find a reference as to where in the arena. There are also Flames Fan Attics at the North Hill Centre mall and Calgary International Airport. I suspect that, due to the city's Western heritage, you can buy cowboy hats with the Flames' logo on them.
In spite of having won a Stanley Cup, and nearly winning 2 others, there aren't many books about the Flames. The Calgary Herald staff put together a coffee-table book titled Calgary Flames: The Fire Inside, but that's a big book at a big price. Last month, Mark Spector published The Battle of Alberta: The Historic Rivalry Between the Edmonton Oilers and the Calgary Flames.
The NHL has released a DVD set, Calgary Flames: 10 Great Playoff Games. They include a Game 7 win over the Philadelphia Flyers in 1981, their 1st season in Calgary; the shocking Game 7 win over the arch-rival Oilers in 1986, won by Steve Smith's own goal; another Game 7 win in 1986, over the St. Louis Blues; a Game 7 win over the Vancouver Canucks in 1989; the Cup-clincher of 1989, the only time a team ever clinched over the Montreal Canadiens at the Montreal Forum; the 1991 Game 6 win over the Oilers won by Theoren Fleury's goal that produced a memorable celebration; the Game 7 win over Vancouver in 2004; the Game 5 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning in 2004; and the Game 3 win over the San Jose Sharks in 2008.
During the Game. A November 19, 2014 article on The Hockey News' website ranked the NHL teams' fan bases, and listed the Flames' fans 8th: "Consistent turnout at games despite rebuild. Lackluster social media presence."
You are not Edmonton Oilers fans. You will not be wearing Oilers gear. Therefore, you will almost certainly be safe.
The seats are blue, but they become "the C of Red." (Never "the Red C.") The Flames' home jerseys are red, like the Devils'. I don't know if it would be better to wear a red Devils jersey to fit in, or a white one to stand out. But the C of Red is as pervasive as the one in the St. Louis Cardinals' Busch Stadium.
The C of Red
George Canyon, a country singer from Nova Scotia who now lives in Calgary, and has been appointed the Colonel Commandant of the Royal Canadian Air Cadets, is the Flames' regular singer of the National Anthem(s). There isn't much in the way of fan chants or songs, just "Go, Flames, Go!" Their goal song is "Righteous Smoke" by Monster Truck.
Although they sometimes wear a 3rd jersey with a fire-breathing dragon on it, their mascot is Harvey the Hound, a big white silly-looking dog with its tongue hanging way out -- which has driven some frustrated fans, and even one opposing coach (Craig MacTavish of the arch-rival Oilers), to grab it and try to rip it out. He was introduced in 1983, and was the 1st mascot in NHL history. (His name has confused me: I thought it was not Harvey, but Harley, named for longtime owner Harley Hotchkiss.)
After the Game. Canada does not have much of a problem with crime, and while hockey fans like to drink, Flames fans will probably leave you alone. Just don't praise the Oilers, and you should be safe.
Mavericks Dining Room & Lounge is on 2nd Street, at the southwest edge of the parking lot. Effectively, it marks the beginning (or the end) of the Red Mile, a strip of bars and restaurants along 17th Avenue that gained fame for its party atmosphere during the 2004 Playoffs.
If your visit to Calgary is during the European soccer season (which we are now in), the best soccer pub in town is The Pig & Duke, 1312 12th Avenue SW, about 2 miles west of downtown. Bus 7.
Sidelights. As with the other major cities of Canada, Calgary isn't just about hockey.
* Stampede Corral. Home to the Calgary Stampede, the world's largest rodeo, since 1950, the Flames played here from their 1980 move from Atlanta until the Saddledome opened across the street in 1983. At just 6,475 seats, it was too small to be their long-term home, but with the Saddledome already planned, they could afford to wait. Several minor-league hockey teams had used it before the Flames arrived. 10 Corral Trail SE at Olympic Way. (There are no plans to build a new arena to replace the Saddledome.)
The Stampeders, a.k.a. the Stamps, won the Grey Cup, Canada's Super Bowl, while playing here in 1971, 1992, 1998, 2001 and 2008. (Previously, they played at Mewata Stadium, and won the 1946 Grey Cup while playing there. That facility was built in 1906 and demolished in 1999.) The stadium hosted the Grey Cup in 1975, 1993, 2000 and 2009. It hosted an NHL Heritage Classic between the Flames and the Canadiens in 2011, which the Flames won, 4-0. 1817 Crowchild Trail NW at 23rd Avenue.
(While the University of Calgary is, of course, in Calgary, the University of Alberta is in Edmonton.)
* Foothills Stadium. Adjacent to McMahon Stadium, this 6,000-seat ballpark went up in 1966, and is the home of the University of Calgary baseball team. It was home to several minor league teams, including the Calgary Expos, who won Pioneer League Pennants there in 1979 and 1981. The Pacific Coast League's Calgary Cannons won Division titles in 1985, 1987, 1989 and 1991, but never won a Pennant. 2255 Crowchild Trail NW. Both stadiums can be reached via the Banff station on light rail.
The University of Calgary sports complex,
including Foothills Stadium (L) and McMahon Stadium (R)
The closest Major League Baseball team to Calgary is the Seattle Mariners, and they're not close: 673 miles away. The closest NBA team, the Portland Trail Blazers, is even further away: 775 miles. Don't count on Calgary ever getting a team in either sport: Population-wise, its metro area would rank dead last in each, 31st. The closest Major League Soccer team is the Vancouver Whitecaps, 604 miles.
With the Grizzlies and the Seattle SuperSonics both gone, the closest NBA team to Vancouver is the Portland Trail Blazers, 314 miles away. But according to an article in the May 12, 2014 New York Times, the most popular NBA team in Calgary is easily the Los Angeles Lakers, well ahead of runners-up the Miami Heat and the Chicago Bulls.
* Museums. Calgary's best-known museum is the Glenbow, which is both their Museum of Natural History and their Metropolitan Museum of Art. 130 9th Avenue SE at 1st Street downtown, across from the iconic Calgary Tower.
Gasoline Alley Museum at Heritage Park Historical Village sounds like a copy of the Henry Ford Museum outside Detroit, as it documents the dawn of the automobile age, with first- and second-generation automobiles and a recreated turn-of-the-20th-Century street scene -- significant because Alberta didn't turn from Territory to full Province until 1905. visitcalgary.com says of it, "It's probably the only time you'll ever find yourself in the thick of a traffic jam without a hint of road rage." 1900 Heritage Drive SW at 14th Street, on Glenmore Reservoir. Light rail to Heritage station, then switch to 502 bus.
Calgary has produced 2 Prime Ministers. The recently-defeated PM, Stephen Harper, represents a Calgary district (or "riding" as they'd say in Canada). The other is Richard B. Bennett, who served from 1930 and 1935, rising to power after the 1929 stock market crash but was seen as doing nothing to ease the Depression, and became the most hated man in the country's history, so much so that he left Canada for the mother country, Britain. He's the only head of government in either America or Canada who died on foreign soil, or is buried in it. As you might guess, there's no historic site in his memory, either in Calgary or in his hometown in the Province of New Brunswick.
The tallest building in Calgary, and in Canada between Toronto and Vancouver, is The Bow, a weird-looking X-framed downtown building, 774 feet high. 500 Centre Street SE.
TV shows set in Calgary are generally not shown in America. Probably the best-known movie to use Calgary and/or its environs as a filming location was Brokeback Mountain.
Calgary is Canada's Dallas and its Denver rolled into one, its great Western city of toughness and excess. And it's a great hockey town, a good roadtrip for Devils fans.