CALGARY — The Calgary Flames welcomed back the MVP of their only Stanley Cup winning team during Al MacInnis Night.
MacInnis was honoured before Monday night’s game between the Flames and St. Louis Blues with his family and several former teammates by his side.
"It was the people of Calgary who welcomed me to the NHL, who made me proud to be a Flame," MacInnis told the sell-out crowd of 19,289 fans at the Scotiabank Saddledome.
MacInnis, who spent his first 13 National Hockey League seasons in Calgary and then 10 more with the St. Louis Blues, became the first player honoured under the "Forever a Flame" program.
"I was fortunate enough to play with two great organizations and this night is very, very special for a number of reasons," MacInnis said. "The Calgary Flames gave me a chance to play in the National Hockey League. They showed patience in a young defenceman for years that needed to develop and needed work."
The native of Port Hood, N.S., watched as a special banner with his No. 2 and picture of him in a Flames jersey was raised to the rafters of the arena.
"When I was growing up there were only a few players coming out of the province of Nova Scotia and making it to the NHL," MacInnis said. "I was the first one from Nova Scotia entered into the Hockey Hall of Fame and I felt they were part of it.
"For a while there, they labelled me the best player to come out of Nova Scotia. I think it lasted six weeks until there was a young guy by the name of Sidney Crosby who came out of Cole Harbour. It was fun while it lasted. That’s where your roots are. That’s where your family is. When I grew up in Nova Scotia, the NHL, we felt it was on another planet. That’s how far it was from becoming a reality."
The special pre-game ceremony also featured a pair of video tributes dedicated to the defenceman who was well known for his booming slapshot.
"People ask me if I kind of regret having that as a stigma but it gave me a chance to play in the National Hockey League," said MacInnis, who also received several gifts and a $25,000 to the charity of his choice from the Flames. "I was lucky enough to have great coaches along the way that showed patience and worked with me after practice hours on end to become a dependable defenceman."
While MacInnis’ number isn’t being retired by the organization that drafted him in the first round (15th overall) of the 1981 NHL Entry Draft, the "Forever a Flame" distinction will serve to recognize his contributions to the team. In addition to the banner, a concourse display area is being created at the Saddledome which will be dedicated to MacInnis and future honourees.
"It’s an honour that is very well deserved," said current Flames captain Jarome Iginla. "He was a fun guy to watch and a hard guy to play against. He’s still very popular here, as he should be."
MacInnis won the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP when Calgary won the Stanley Cup in 1989.
"It was the pinnacle of my career and it will always hold a huge part in my career and obviously a huge part in my heart," MacInnis said.
He was also named an all-star eight times in his 13 years with the Flames before he left Calgary after the 1992-93 season to sign in St. Louis.
MacInnis, who now serves as vice president of hockey operations with the Blues, went on to win the Norris Trophy in 1999 as the NHL’s top defenceman.
"Although I live in St. Louis, my home away from home will always be here," said MacInnis, who was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2007 and also had his No. 2 retired by the Blues.