CALGARY — The roar from the crowd was eerily reminiscent of the pre-game welcome for recent Hall of Fame inductee Mike Vernon.
The goalie receiving similar treatment was 22-year-old Dustin Wolf, whose third NHL appearance came 90 seconds into the second period of the Flames’ worst outing in a month.
A brilliant first period by Dan Vladar erased by two quick goals to open the second, Wolf was told to gear up and get in with the club down 3-0.
With all eyes on the AHL sensation ever since he was called up due to Jacob Markstrom’s fractured finger, the Saddledome welcome included a significant number of fans offering a standing ovation.
Wolf not only heard it, he soaked it in.
“It means a lot obviously,” said Wolf in a quiet, one-on-one chat after the game.
“We’re down 3-0 and Husk [head coach Ryan Huska] throws me in there and I’m just trying to take advantage of the opportunity.
“To hear the fans roar like that was pretty special.
“I can say ‘special’ as many times as I want, but I don’t think you could put words into it. Hopefully I can give them some more wins moving forward.”
On this night, the only victory was a moral one for all those who have been clamouring to see the team’s goalie of the future become a Flames regular.
A 5-2 loss that saw the Flames unable to claw back from their latest slow start was forgettable.
Wolf’s stirring entrance is the game’s takeaway.
He’s only slated to be here for a week or two, backing up Vladar as Markstrom recovers.
But his appearance will only serve to whip fans into an even bigger froth over the undersized kid who has done nothing but dominate the last four years.
Flames fans have been watching the Gilroy, Calif. native star with the Wranglers, showering him with love around the community and howling (literally) for the day his time comes to be a Flame.
“The support is unlike anything else, really,” he smiled.
“It’s a Canadian market.
“It’s only my third time getting to play but that (moment) was fun.”
There’s already a young fan in the crowd, parading around wearing a No. 32 Wolf jersey and perfectly matching helmet.
The crowd’s euphoria wasn’t a reflection on Vladar or his play, but on the hope the diminutive seventh-rounder brings as the team stares down a retool that will see even more youngsters getting their chance.
With four straight goalie-of-the-year campaigns, the reigning AHL MVP is understandably intriguing.
At some point the Flames will have to make room for him via a trade.
How he and Vladar fare as the team’s tandem the next week or two may go a long way towards determining when that trade will happen.
The team’s play over the next month or two will say plenty more.
It’s a tad premature and overdramatic to suggest Wolf replacing Vladar in the middle of the Flames’ horrific outing is an unofficial changing of the guard.
Vladar deserves far more credit than that.
However, that day is coming.
In a game the Flames were never in, Wolf was the reason fans watching on TV didn’t change the channel.
Few fans left early.
“He’s been a talking point for a couple years now,” said Huska, who definitely noticed the ovation Wolf garnered.
“People want to see him play, really is what it comes down to.
“Unfortunately it was in a game we didn’t anticipate him playing, but that’s kind of what it comes down to.”
Wolf made several solid saves on a penalty kill early to settle in well before he was beaten by an incredible power play redirection by Matt Boldy that nobody could fault him on.
Wolf later stopped Brandon Duhaime on a breakaway to keep the game reasonable, giving the team and the rink a jolt.
Shortly after Connor Zary closed the gap top 4-2 early in the third, Joel Eriksson Ek made it 5-2 with a shot that trickled through Wolf and Nazem Kadri, who had lost an edge and slid into his goalie.
Wolf finished with 11 saves on 13 shots despite being put in a tough position.
“You’re maybe a little more prepared when you know you’re starting, but at the same time when you’re thrown in there and have little notice it’s a similar thing — you just try to play the best you can,” said Wolf, who had plenty of empathy for Vladar, who made 13 saves.
“You feel for him.
“I had a rough outing two weeks ago in this building and those outings suck, but you come back the next day and you get back to work and you support one another because at the end of the day you’re trying to win hockey games.”
Blake Coleman heard the crowd’s welcome for Wolf and lamented that it was all prompted by his team’s hapless showing.
“Vladdy was left out to dry early in the game — we never should have seen Wolfy in this game,” he said.
“You don’t want to put a goalie in that situation.
“But that said, he came in and gave us a little bit of life, and a little jump, but we just weren’t able to sustain it.”
Does the evening change Huska’s starting goalie approach moving forward?
“It’s something we’ll touch on tomorrow and discuss, but I don’t think it (changes anything), no,” said the coach, whose club hosts Carolina Thursday and New Jersey Saturday.
Wolf will undoubtedly start at least one of those games.
Expect the ovation to be even louder.