By Zane Miller
On April 18th, 1983, the Calgary Flames defeated the Edmonton Oilers 6-5 to stave off elimination in the second round of the 1983 NHL playoffs, putting the Oilers’ series lead at three games to one and forcing them to play at least one more contest instead of advancing to the Western Conference Finals with a series sweep. However, this game would be the final NHL contest played at Stampede Corral in Calgary, the first home of the Flames after their relocation from Atlanta for the 1980-81 season.
The Atlanta Flames began play as an expansion team for the 1972-73 campaign, however, a general lack of attendance during their tenure in the Peach State led to the franchise’s relatively quick relocation after just eight seasons. While not yet built, the now-named Calgary Flames would have a new arena in the Olympic Saddledome, which was approved in the wake of the city’s successful bid to host the Winter Olympics in 1988. Until the Saddledome was ready, however, the Flames would have their home games at the Stampede Corral.
Opened in 1950, the Stampede Corral started out as a host for the Western Hockey League’s Calgary Stampeders, which most notably won the league championship in 1954 and made the finals four more times before exiting the league after the 1962-63 season. However, a new hockey team would come in to replace the Stampeders in 1966, as the Calgary Buffaloes (later Calgary Centennials) of the Western Canada Hockey League used the facility until their relocation to Billings, Montana, in 1977, with their best season coming in 1973-74 as they made the championship finals, though they would be swept by the Regina Pats. WHL hockey returned to the Calgary for the first time in nearly 15 years, as the Wranglers filled the vacancy at Stampede Corral for the 1977-78 season. However, just a couple of seasons later, the big leagues would come calling for the first time in the arena’s 30-year history.
With the now-named Calgary Flames playing in the Stampede Corral, the team would immediately get off to a hot start, advancing past the first round for the first time in franchise history to nearly reach the Stanley Cup Finals in 1981, though the team would fall in the third round to the Minnesota North Stars (now Dallas Stars) in six games. Despite making another postseason appearance the following year, the Flames would not fare as well with a first-round sweep at the hands of the eventual Campbell Conference champion Vancouver Canucks.
After the poor showing in 1981-82, Calgary had their second straight losing season with a 32-34-14 record in 1982-83. Fortunately for the Flames, 16 of the 21 teams in the league at the time qualified for the 1983 playoffs, with Calgary being one of them despite their subpar record. In the opening round, they would have their revenge against their bitter rival in the Canucks, winning the series three games to one. With that, the Flames’ second-round opponent would be yet another rival Canadian team, as the Edmonton Oilers came into the picture with their three-game sweep over the Winnipeg Jets (now Arizona Coyotes).
Looking to be on the verge of a breakthrough after impressive regular season results in 1981-82 and 1982-83, the Oilers would not take any chances after a massive upset at the hands of the Los Angeles Kings saw them eliminated in the first round. This time, the Oilers quickly jumped out to a 3-0 series lead over the Flames, just needing one more win to make it to the conference finals for the first time since joining the NHL. However, with this meeting possibly being the last before heading to their home, Calgary was determined to send the Stampede Corral off on a high note.
Starting in goal for the Flames would be veteran Don Edwards, who was in his first season with the team after playing six seasons with the Buffalo Sabres. On the year, Edwards had a 16-15-6 regular season record with a respectable (for the time) save percentage of .882, though this would drop significantly in the playoffs to .823. On the other end of the ice, the Oilers would have young goaltender Andy Moog, who had just wrapped up his breakout 1982-83 season with a 33-8-7 record and a .891 save percentage, good for taking fifth in voting for the Vezina Trophy. This momentum carried into the playoffs as well, getting a .896 save percentage through the postseason.
The first period got underway with both teams trading power play goals, as Flames defenseman Paul Reinhart found the back of the net six minutes into the contest, before the Oilers’ Jari Kurri capitalized on a power play opportunity of his own just over two minutes later. Undeterred, the Flames responded at the 11:32 mark with an even strength goal from another future Hall of Fame forward in Lanny McDonald to reclaim the lead. This enthrallment would be short-lived, however, as Oilers forward Wayne Gretzky, fresh off of a 71-goal regular season, scored less than two minutes later to make it a 2-2 game after the opening 20 minutes.
The second period, however, would be a different story as the Calgary defense clamped down, shutting Edmonton out despite giving up a whopping four power play opportunities, including two just 13 seconds apart from each other. This allowed the offense to come through at the midway mark of the period, with Reinhart scoring his second of the game, coincidentally with this one also being on the power play. With the defense still holding steady, Calgary would take advantage once again, this time with rookie forward Jim Jackson lighting the lamp with just over two minutes to go in what would be a 4-2 lead heading into the final frame.
Thanks to another power play opportunity early on in the third period, the Flames increased their advantage further with forward and former first overall draft pick Mel Bridgman scoring, with forward Guy Chouinard getting one of the assists for his third helper of the evening. Shortly after, the Battle of Alberta mentality would shine through as a brawl would take place between the two teams, with the sides getting slapped with a combined 85 penalty minutes in the exchange. The Flames’ offense would not stop at just a three-goal lead, however, as just before the midway mark, forward Greg Meredith would contribute to the offensive output as well with a shorthanded tally, giving Calgary what should have been an insurmountable 6-2 advantage with 10 minutes left. However, Edmonton would attempt to prove this to not be the case.
Just 18 seconds later, while still on the power play, offseason acquisition Ken Linseman would neutralize the shorthanded marker to make it a 6-3 game. Linseman again carried the torch for the rally effort, scoring yet again less than three minutes later to put the threat of a sweep back on the table with seven minutes to go in regulation.
With the Calgary offense stagnating, the Oilers continued to push the gas pedal to the floor, putting more shots towards Edwards. As 2:28 remained in regulation, the Oilers would get their next offensive boost from a somewhat unlikely source, as forward Tom Roulston hit the back of the net in what would be his second and final career postseason goal. The situation quickly became even more dire as Calgary committed a holding penalty, thus putting Edmonton on the power play for the final two minutes of play. However, with the Oilers unable to do anything with the first half of the power play chance, they would send Moog to the bench for the extra attacker, essentially giving themselves a two-man advantage. Despite this, the Flames would reclaim their strong defense shown in the second period, holding off the last 48 seconds of the six-on-four opportunity to end the Oilers’ sweep bid with the 6-5 victory, leaving the Stampede Corral with one of the most intense offensive battles seen in both teams’ short histories to that point.
Edwards claimed the win with 28 saves on 33 chances, while Moog was hit with the loss after making 27 saves with 33 shots coming his way as well. However, the morale boost from the game four win would be quickly erased back in Edmonton for game five, as the Oilers took care of business in a 9-3 blowout to finally eliminate the Flames and move on to the conference finals. From there, the Oilers successfully swept the Chicago Black Hawks (now Chicago Blackhawks) to meet the New York Islanders in the Stanley Cup Finals, although their good fortune would run out as the Islanders rampaged to a series sweep of their own, collecting their fourth-straight title.
With the Flames vacating the Stampede Corral at season’s end as expected, the Wranglers would remain as the primary tenant through the 1986-87 season, before the team relocated to their current city in Lethbridge, Alberta, becoming known as the Hurricanes in the process. However, with the Winter Olympics coming to Calgary in 1988, the Corral was used as one of the rinks for both ice hockey and figure skating. The Soviet Union would claim the gold medal in hockey with Finland and Sweden taking the silver and bronze respectively, while Brian Boitano won the men’s figure skating gold medal for the United States and Katarina Witt earned the women’s gold medal for East Germany.
Unfortunately, after the Olympics wrapped up, the Corral’s usage would go on the decline, with only a handful of teams utilizing the arena on a temporary basis, largely using it as a backup plan in case of scheduling conflicts with the Saddledome. Most notably, it was the temporary home of the WHL’s Calgary Hitmen, who played at the venue sporadically from their debut season in 1995-96 to the 2018-19 campaign. However, with various wrestling and rodeo events also being held at the Stampede Corral, it was able to stay in use for nearly 70 years. However, with the finances not able to line up to keep the arena up to safety code, the decision was made to close and demolish the building, which was carried out in October of 2020. As of this writing, the former site of the Stampede Corral is under construction as an expansion for a nearby convention center, with the new addition scheduled to be completed by 2024.
Link to stats database: https://www.hockey-reference.com/boxscores/198304180CGY.html