It’s Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final and you, as coach of the Calgary Flames Dream Team, can ice a lineup of players from any era you want.
With the score tied late in the second period of an intense 2-2 game, you tap the backs of a trio you’ve silently considered your secret weapon.
The fans, well, they’ll have other names for them.
Third-line centre Doug Gilmour jumps over the boards, followed by Theo Fleury and Matthew Tkachuk, making up one of the most hated lines in the history of hockey.
Shockingly, a post-whistle scrum gets all three involved before an opponent is singled out for crossing the line. Suckered again.
The Flames vaunted power play hits the ice with three Hall of Famers upfront — Jarome Iginla, Joe Nieuwendyk and Lanny McDonald. At the back, Norris Trophy winners Al MacInnis and Mark Giordano. Things are looking good.
At a time when all we can do is dream about hockey, the exercise is simple: summon anyone from the list of the more than 600 gentlemen who’ve suited up for the Flames over the last 40 years.
Pick each player based on their prime years as a Flame, and be mindful of the fact this isn’t simply an all-star squad or a list compiled by looking at the franchise’s all-time scoring leaders. You are in search of the best team, meaning various roles need to be filled, such as checkers, penalty-killers and heart-and-soul fellas who will lay it all on the line for the big game.
Although the Flames only have one Stanley Cup win in their history, my lineup features eight 50-goal scorers, five Hall of Famers, a pair of Norris Trophy winners and one of the most dominant netminders of his era:
First line: Gary Roberts, Joe Nieuwendyk, Jarome Iginla
Three 50-goal scorers on one line, with the added bonus of having three of the most competitive players the organization has ever seen. Interestingly, Iginla was traded to Calgary from Dallas for Nieuwendyk in 1995 in a swap of Hall of Famers that served everyone involved brilliantly. Nieuwendyk won Cups with three organizations, including Calgary where he did it alongside Roberts in 1989 as a youngster. Iginla, the franchise points leader, carried the Flames on his back in 2004 when his squad fell one game short of the Stanley Cup. If given one more shot at a Game 7, you can bet he’d rise to the occasion again like he did in overtime of the Olympic gold medal game at the 2010 Vancouver Games.
This fierce, talented line could dominate in so many ways.
Second Line: Johnny Gaudreau, Hakan Loob, Lanny McDonald
A dream assignment for former 66-goal scorer McDonald, who will line up alongside two of the most skilled playmakers in Flames lore.
It’s not without controversy though.
Noticeably absent from the line — and the starting lineup — is Kent Nilsson, who is widely considered the most skilled player ever to play for the Flames. However, the man they call The Magic Man also had a knack for disappearing in big games. More on that later.
Loob is a 50-goal scorer who came with some jam and endless skill worthy of a second-line assignment.
Gaudreau is another controversial piece on the second line. Despite being one of the most exciting and skilled players in Flames history, the jury is still out on whether he can be counted on to excel when the games matter most. Lanny’s leadership, goal-scoring ability and experience in big NHL and international games makes him a no-brainer on the second unit.
Third line: Matthew Tkachuk, Doug Gilmour, Theo Fleury
While many will debate the merits of having Tkachuk on this roster with just four years of service, no one can argue the fact it would instantly be considered one of the most hated trios in hockey history.
All three can create offence as easily as they can infuriate the opposition with an endless array of tactics aimed to throw opponents off their game and into a tizzy.
Every coach would relish having a shutdown line as talented and versatile as this.
Surely as a group, they’d be able to draw a big penalty or two in the big game that could be the difference. Few hated to lose more than any of these three.
Fourth line: Jim Peplinski, Joel Otto, Joe Mullen
A nice balance of grit, scoring ability and defensive responsibility.
As a Hall of Famer and 50-goal scorer who potted 16 goals in the Flames’ 21 playoff games en route to the 1989 Stanley Cup, Mullen likely deserves higher billing than the fourth line. Alas, it’s obviously a deep group that has the luxury of pairing the Hall of Famer with Otto, the organization’s answer to Mark Messier and every other top centre in the league. Peplinski, a tough-as-nails Flames captain who scored 30 one year while amassing 1,400 career penalty minutes, was the only one drafted in the trio.
Healthy scratches: Kent Nilsson, Martin Gelinas
Nilsson’s 49 goals and 131 points in his second NHL season led Wayne Gretzky to famously say, “Skills-wise, he might have been the most skilled hockey player I ever saw in my entire career.” Alas, Nilsson’s work ethic and mindset frustrated teammates, who knew they couldn’t count on him when the chips were down.
Thus, he’ll watch this dream matchup from the press box alongside Martin Gelinas.
No teammate ever questioned the way Gelinas approached the game, giving it everything he had every shift. That hard work paid off in 2004 when he scored the series clincher in each of the first three upsets before appearing to score a goal in Game 6 of the Final that should have been reviewed and very well have counted as the Cup-winner.
The Eliminator would be a great add to this lineup if an injury occurred.
First pairing: Gary Suter, Al MacInnis
These lads played together for the better part of nine seasons, so they have a bit of chemistry, not to mention one of the most feared shots in hockey history, even with a wooden stick.
Second pairing: Mark Giordano, Paul Reinhart
Two offensively gifted, yet complete defenders who care as much as anyone.
Third pairing: Robyn Regehr, Jamie Macoun
This is one punishing duo that will make life hell for the opposition.
Healthy scratch: Brad McCrimmon
No one would have wanted to be the one to tell McCrimmon, the ultimate competitor, he was sitting this one out.
Beloved in the room, Beast was a monster who terrorized opponents and would do anything for the team.
Miikka Kiprusoff, Mike Vernon
Vernon backstopped the Flames and Red Wings to Stanley Cups, but will watch from the bench as Kiprusoff gets the start.
No one in Flames silks has ever dominated more than the fantastic Finn did over a decade of service in Calgary.
Forever calm and in control, few goalies of his era stole games with as much regularity as he did, making him the easy decision in goal.