Taking their cues from a coach and team forging an identity as a group that thrives on making the opposition uncomfortable, credit the 15,879 on hand at the Saddledome Saturday for mirroring the persistence of their heroes below.
Even cursory touches raised the volume.
It has been three years since the Flames' third-round pick prompted a trade by making it known to management he wouldn’t sign in Calgary.
As the New York-raised star dominated the college ranks at Harvard, it became clear he could eventually write his own ticket to play in the Big Apple, leading the Flames to include him in the deal for Elias Lindholm and Noah Hanifin. (Carolina would later flip Fox to the Blueshirts to complete his mission).
Although the swap worked out for both sides, Flames fans still aren’t ready to forgive the reigning Norris trophy winner for pulling his personal power play.
The comical commotion turned into tremendous theatre late in the first period, when Fox appeared to have tied the game after walking in from the blue line with a pair of dangles he finished off with a magical, top shelf backhand.
Silencing his critics with an animated celebration that eventually drew more boos, the moment was cut short by an official announcing the play would be reviewed.
Flames fans are giving Adam Fox an earful tonight.@kbieksa3 stopped by during intermission to talk about being booed in Calgary... and also to roast @FriedgeHNIC.#HockeyNight | #NHLonSN pic.twitter.com/AwSfxaPc6e
— Sportsnet (@Sportsnet) November 7, 2021
With Sammy Blais clearly offside on the zone entry, the ensuing announcement that the goal was negated nearly blew the roof off the joint three years ahead of schedule.
The perfect moment was completed by a tight shot on the Jumbotron of Fox on the bench, prompting a “Fox You Suck” chant that resonated the rest of the night.
The party was well underway.
The players took it from there, with the fans spurring them on every step of the way.
By night’s end the Rangers’ villain had been relegated to just one of the many Rangers victimized by game star Jacob Markstrom, who made 22 saves to record his career-high fourth shutout of the season as part of a 6-0 win.
Regardless of where the spotlight shone early, this night was a love-in between a fan base and a hard-working team that extended its point streak to 10 games.
Just like old (pre-Covid) times.
“We had too many overtime losses at home and we really needed a win and to get the Saddledome buzzing and get the fans involved,” said Markstrom, following the Flames' 6-0 win on a Hockey Night in Canada broadcast in which the Fox bashing prompted Kevin Bieksa to reminisce about the Dome dissenters he dealt with.
“Great to do it on a Saturday night."
— Sportsnet (@Sportsnet) November 7, 2021
Markstrom lifted the fans out of their seats late in the affair when he flashed the same glove that stoned Fox and Ryan Strome earlier to deny Mika Zibanejad in close.
Following consecutive overtime losses in which the Flames mounted late comebacks, Darryl Sutter’s crew returned to the type of complete effort that finished with four points from Matthew Tkachuk, including a between-the-legs jobby from in tight that dropped almost as many jaws as Connor McDavid’s gold standard one night earlier.
“I thought the atmosphere was great,” said Tkachuk, who drew a roar form the masses when his cheeky smile was shown on the Jumbotron seconds later.
“Obviously there were a lot of boos on the other side, and they were great for us. They were very into it. And when they’re into it like that it seems to give us tons of momentum and we can build off them. This was a very tough building to play in tonight. I’m sure you can ask every one of them over there.”
Despite outshooting the Rangers 37-22 and outplaying them all night, the Rangers were only down 1-0 after one, staying in the game until Brad Richardson’s first as a Flame midway through the second was followed up two minutes later by Johnny Gaudreau’s first of two.
Even though it was the Flames’ fifth home game, it seemed like the unofficial return of the atmosphere that makes games like these so special.
Although every team had to deal with the emptiness of playing without support in the stands the last year and a half, the Flames seemed to miss the masses more than most.
The combination was brilliantly entertaining and effective Saturday.
“We need our building to be loud -- that’s important,” said Sutter. “When you’re playing that hard... I’ve said it all along, I know what our real fans want. Hard work and honesty. That resonates with them.”
Tkachuk’s goal resonated too.
“I wasn’t thinking there, it just happened,” said Tkachuk.
“I was just kind of in an awkward position there, backing up towards the goalie, and couldn’t really stop my momentum. So, I just thought that was the best way to go about it. Lucky it worked out. But it was the sixth goal, so it didn’t really matter.”
“He does all that kind of stuff in practice as well,” he said, before breaking into a grin. “It never works in practice.”
He’s probably right, as Tkachuk confirmed.
On almost any other night his snipe or Markstrom’s perfection might have been the focal point.
Instead, the love-in between the fans and a team off to an unexpected start took centre stage.
And it was a delight to be part of.