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Fans Comment

It Can Be DOne!
John Horan gives us an inspiring analogy from the American National Hockey League.

21 May 2004

I was born and raised an Evertonian. I go back to the days of Nobby Fielding, Dave Hickson and Bobbie Collins. I was behind the goal at Maine Road in '58(?) when Collins made his debut and Nobby slipped one past Bert Trautman for the blues first win of the season. They were bottom of the league at the time and wee Bobbie was signed to rescue the club from relegation worries - again.

I have lived in Canada for many years and support the local Calgary Flames hockey team. They play in the hockey equivalent of the "Premier League" - The National Hockey League (NHL) along with the likes of the New York Rangers, Detroit Redwings, Chicago Blackhawks and Toronto Maple Leafs.

Like Everton, the Flames have been in the doldrums for the past 7 seasons. Again like Everton they hired a new Manager a couple of years ago and, again like the Blues they are considered a team with little money to spend. Over here they are defined as a "small market team" with low TV revenue etc.

Well, this season the team the new manager has put together has performed miracles and I'm sure you'll soon see - if you haven't already -on TV or in the newspapers pictures of crazy fans parading downtown after every victory. Every 3rd car - in a city of almost a million people - has a Flames flag flying from its window depicting a flaming C.

The cause of all the excitement? Let me try to explain. It's a truly inspiring story which should warm the hearts of every Evertonian - IT CAN BE DONE!

Unlike football tradition in general where the league champion is the team with the most points, hockey has a playoff system There are 30 teams in the NHL - 15 in the Eastern Conference 15 in the Western Conference. The top 8 clubs in each Conference qualify for the playoffs. In the first round the #1 team in total points plays the #8 team, #2 plays #7, #3 plays #6, #4 plays #5. They play a best of 7 game series. First team to win 4 games moves on to the 2nd round. The higher seed in each series has "home ice advantage" meaning if the series goes to 7 games they get that last game at home. Games 1 & 2 are at the higher seeds arena, games 3 & 4 at the lower seeds, game 5 back to higher seed, game 6 back to lower seed.

The Calgary Flames had failed to make the playoffs for 7 seasons in a row. This season there stated goal was to "just make the play offs". They finished 6th meaning they played the #3 seeded Vancouver Canucks in the first round. An incredible 7 game series ensued. The Canucks were highly favoured having a big payroll and several star players. Calgary was up 3 games to 2 heading home for game 6. Looked like their first play off series win in 15 years was on the cards. They were down 4-0 at one point but rallied to tie at 4-4 and the game went into overtime. Now, unlike football, a hockey game in the play offs is played until a goal is scored. The game reached the 3rd overtime period - almost 2 complete games - before Vancouver scored the winner! You'd have thought that would completely deflate the Flames. Back to Vancouver for the crucial 7th game. The Flames were leading by one goal when Vancouver sensationally equalized with 5 seconds left on the clock! Off again to overtime were, by now you would have thought the Flames would be totally demoralized playing before a hostile Vancouver crowd. But they dug deep and scored the winner!!

Their reward in Round 2 was they got to play the Detroit Red Wings the #1 ranked team in the whole NHL. Payroll 3 times bigger than Calgary, star players all over the place. Try and imagine the Blues drawn to Play Arsenal in a best of 7. To make a long story short Calgary prevailed in 6 games winning the last two games by 1 - 0 scores, the last one in overtime!

On to round 3, playing now in the Western Conference Championship, the winner to play the Eastern Champ for the coveted Stanley Cup. The Flames played the San Jose Sharks, seeded #2. Another incredible series with the Flames prevailing on Wednesday night with a 3 - 1 victory for a 4-2 series win. On to the Stanley Cup - Best of 7 starting next Tuesday night against either Tampa Bay or Philadelphia who are tied 3-3 with the decider in Tampa Saturday night. Calgary is the first Canadian based team to make the final in 10 years. The sport is dominated by richer American teams, although 65% of all the players are Canadians.

I felt compelled to write to all Blues fans who must be beside themselves after a terribly disappointing season. I know I am. The message I am trying to convey with the Flames great story is if a manager as talented as Moyes is given just a little elbow room on the financial side miracles can happen. He must know what type of team he needs to compete, what system he wants to play and what players can fit into that system.

The Flames Manager, Daryl Sutter, has been allowed to do that. He essentially went after character players with lots of speed and determination. players who are only concerned with the name on the front of their shirts not the back - "all for one - the team". The players go all out every game because they don't want to let their teammates down. Sutter publicly castigates players for poor play and they respond the next game.

Like the Blues, the Flames have one home grown superstar - Jerome Iginla. He's what Wayne will be in 4-5 years. He's the Captain and led the NHL in goals scored this regular season and is the leading scorer so far in the play offs. He can do everything - lead his team, score, defend and - yes - fight! Last season the debate was can we afford Jerome? Let's trade him and get some more players. Sound familiar? Management bit the bullet and agreed to pay him $8 million US a year - $150,000+ a week. It has paid off in spades. The manager has surrounded him with a gritty bunch of character players many of whom have "been there before" and know what it takes to win cups and championships with other teams where they, perhaps, played a smaller role. Ironically Sutter managed San Jose, who we just beat, before coming to Calgary. He knew their roster well. He basically "stole" their 3rd string goalie from them earlier this season - a young Fin named Mikka Kiprusoff - who has basically stood on his head all season.

I'm sure with the sophisticated scouting systems now available Moysie knows who he wants - maybe its a young Spanish midfielder who has been to a championship but wants a larger role or a character central defender languishing in France. Heck, Bayern Munich recruited Owen Hargreaves right here in Calgary when he was 16 years old!

A knowledgeable, creative manager can get it done. It's not easy. Moysie has to figure out what type of team he needs to compete against Arsenal - always look to the top - and start building it now. Rooney is a good start. Surround him with a good mix of experienced "war weary" veterans and speedy, aggressive youngsters who are all proud to play for Moyes and Everton - and they will be on their way. "This was once a great club. I want to take it their again. Do you want to make history? Do you want to come along for the ride of your life"!

Message to the Everton Board:

"Please give Moysie the money - not a lot - enough to allow him to build the character team he needs, guys who want to be part of resurrecting a once great club, not for their own glory but to be part of something special - "All for One & One for All" should be the club's new motto. Do it for the fans, they have suffered for much to long".

John Horan Calgary Blue

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2004 ToffeeWeb


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