The WHL’s Calgary Hitmen will pay tribute to Calgary’s hockey history by playing three games in the Stampede Corral, the club announced Wednesday.
In February, the Hitmen will dedicate each game to a former team that once played in the almost 70-year-old arena by wearing commemorative jerseys of the Calgary Centennials, Calgary Wranglers and Calgary Cowboys. The Corral was the Flames’ original home from 1980 to 1983.
The Cowboys played in the World Hockey Association from 1975 to 1977, the Centennials played in the Western Canada Hockey League from 1966 to 1977 and the Wranglers played in the Western Hockey League from 1977 to 1987.
Calgary Hitmen vice-president Mike Moore said fans got a taste of how special watching a game in that building was when the team played against Red Deer two years ago.
“I think it started with the playoff game in 2016 for sure,” said Moore. “We saw the magic and the passion for that building and the roots of junior hockey. We want to link it back to the Calgary Hitmen.”
Stanley Cup champion goalie Mike Vernon got his start playing in the Corral with the Calgary Wranglers junior team back in 1980.
“Those were interesting times. I was 17 years old when I first started with the Wranglers,” Vernon said. “It was a big learning curve for me.”
Vernon is glad the Hitmen are paying tribute to the arena and the Wranglers.
“I played in a Wrangler’s jersey. To go back in history, bring those out of the archives and have the players wear them is great,” Vernon said. “Things like this are very important to us. The Corral’s got a lot of history and I think the fans and the public will enjoy it.”
Former NHL sniper Mike Rogers played junior for the Calgary Centennials from 1971 to 1974. He said this Corral series could be the last chance to watch a hockey game in this arena that holds so many memories for him.
“We were the only show in town. There was no professional hockey, senior hockey had left. You think about the great players who played there, every game was pretty much a sellout,” said Rogers. “It’s a celebration but it’s also going to be sad because eventually that rink is going to be torn down.”
Former Calgary Flames defenceman Jamie Macoun played NHL games in the Corral before the Saddledome was built and said it was a unique place to play.
“I have some great memories of the Corral,” Macoun said. “You get out now and meet other alumni from other teams and one of the first questions they ask you is, ‘What was it like to play in the Corral?’ Because so many of them didn’t have an opportunity to play there.”
The Hitmen home games are scheduled for Feb. 1, 6 and 8 at the Stampede Corral against the Brandon Wheat Kings, the Regina Pats and Prince Albert Raiders.