It was a dark, loud, intimidating building for visiting teams.
But for the fledgling Calgary Flames, the Stampede Corral was the first home they’d have — and they loved it.
“It was magical. It really was,” legendary Flame Lanny McDonald recalled.
Oct. 9 marks 40 years since the puck dropped on the first Flames game in Calgary.
It was standing room only and good seats were $25 a pop as the team skated to a 5-5 tie against the Quebec Nordiques.
At the height of a boom, the growing city was hungry for professional hockey to return after the Calgary Cowboys folded in 1977, something newly arrived players noticed right off the bat.
“Before I even played my first game, I was up at Market Mall and just walking around because I didn’t know anybody in Calgary,” Jamie Macoun said. “Some lady knew who I was already… All she wanted to know was when are we going to beat the Edmonton Oilers, and I’m like, wow, this is crazy.”
Over the three seasons they spent there, the Flames only lost 32 games at the Corral.
McDonald and Macoun remember it as one of few NHL rinks that provided a true home-ice advantage.
“If you couldn’t get up for those games, there was something wrong with you,” McDonald added. “They had two ropes kind of holding the people back on both sides when you walked across the hall, out to the ice. And if you didn’t play well, you’re walking right back to those people.”
In another unusual twist, the boards were substantially higher than other rinks. When an oblivious competitor went over the boards for their shift, they’d often end up faceplanting — much to the delight of the raucous fans.
“There was no hiding in here,” Macoun said. “The dressing rooms for the visiting teams are also horrendous — sometimes there’s stuff dripping onto your equipment and stuff. It’s terrible, but it gave the hometown advantage an even bigger advantage.
“It was maybe some of the best hockey that I think I’ve ever had a chance to participate in.”
The city’s push to host the Olympics allowed the team to move onto some more modern digs.
They wouldn’t have to move far with the newly minted Olympic Saddledome just across the street.
“All of a sudden, you’ve got 18 or 19,000 people cheering you on,” McDonald said. “It was absolutely devastating for us to lose that first game against the Oilers, but you know what, the Scotiabank Saddledome has been home for so many years and so many great stories.”
It would become one of the brightest stages in the Smythe Division glory days and a comfort to a city that had fallen on hard times.
“People were losing their homes, they were losing their jobs, the price of oil was crashing… It was not a happy time in Calgary,” former broadcaster Gary Bobrovitz said.
“The Flames really boosted our morale because they gave us a sense of identity.”
The sights and sounds of the Flames finally hoisting the cup in ’89 still endure more than three decades later.
While the following years were lean on post-season success, there has always been plenty of star power and personality to cheer for.
“You’ve got some great young talent coming up both on forward and defence,” McDonald added. “All of a sudden, if you solidify your goaltending, which obviously this happens with Markstrom, the future is bright.
“But it has been such a great ride for 40 years, and I look extremely forward to the next 40.”