CALGARY, Alberta — The Buffalo Sabres made their first appearance in the Scotiabank Saddledome since 2010 Tuesday night and everything looked pretty much the same on the ice and in the stands.
But things were far from normal here in June, and the underbelly of the Calgary Flames’ home rink looks quite a bit different than it used to thanks to Mother Nature.
A vicious flood of the Elbow and Bow Rivers struck Calgary and environs in June, displacing 75,000 people from their homes and becoming the costliest natural disaster in Canadian history. And the water poured into the Saddledome – all the way up to rows 9 and 10 of the seating bowl – as well as the famous grandstand of the adjacent Calgary Stampede Park.
Everything on the service level of the Saddledome was destroyed. Locker rooms full of equipment, the ice plant, jumbotron control room, kitchen, 1989 Stanley Cup champion memorabilia. Everything. In fact, the water was 9-12 feet high on the service level in the building that dates to 1983 and was built for the 1988 Winter Olympics.
It took a Herculean effort to get things ready for preseason in September. With insurance covering much of the damage, crews worked around the clock and got things done.
“It took me a little while to grasp it,” Flames defenseman and ex-Sabre Chris Butler said here Tuesday. “I was home in St. Louis, and I have some friends up here texting me, ‘Calgary is flooded.’ You’re thinking a foot of water on the street and everything is fine. Then you see pictures from up on the hills looking at the Saddledome and Stampede Park and you couldn’t believe it.
“When I heard Ken King, our team president, say we’d be open for training camp, I couldn’t believe it. They had new equipment stuffed everywhere waiting to go to its spots. There were medicine balls stored in the upper stands. It was unbelievable the work those people put in to get back. The city took a lot of pride in it.”
“My buddies here were telling me parking garages were filling up with water and streets were flowing like rivers,” said Sabres center Tyler Ennis, who grew up 3 hours away in Edmonton. “It was very sad. People lost homes. It was pretty amazing everyone came together and moved on.”
The irreplaceable items centered mostly around memories of the ’89 team. A giant mural near the dressing room signed by every player, a fixture on television broadcasts over the years, was lost. That was a blow to the team and its fans.
The coach of the ’89 Flames, Terry Crisp, is now a broadcaster for Nashville and he shook his head when asked about the flood during his trip to Buffalo last week for the Predators’ win over the Sabres. “The way they explained it was the water just kept coming and coming in a rush,” Crisp said. “It was one big mess when the Bow River came over.” Crisp compared it to a 2010 flood of the Cumberland River in Nashville that caused huge damage to Bridgestone Arena, the Predators’ home.
“My grandchildren were all upset the flood took the picture away. In their minds, it was never mind the seats and everything else,” Crisp said. “They were like, ‘Coach, Coach, it took away the picture.’ Very sad.”
Sabres coach Ted Nolan has some family in the area and was getting a flood rundown from the Sabres’ bus driver when the teams arrived Monday.
Nolan pointed out the new lights in the Saddledome hallways and observers with him readily noticed shiny piping, wiring and concrete all around. Same with the wood dressing room lockers replacing the old metal ones and new work spaces in the basement media room.
“It was pretty devastating,” Nolan said. “And it’s really good they were able to save it. But we know it’s more important with the homes around the area to worry about. More than a hockey rink.”
Butler is one of two players to appear in every Calgary game this season. He entered Tuesday with two goals, nine assists and a minus-22 rating that was second-worst on the team.
When he looked at the Sabres’ roster, he noted injured Tyler Myers, Mike Weber, Tyler Ennis and Drew Stafford and that was about it.
And he rued Buffalo’s Game Seven loss at Philadelphia in 2011, their last playoff appearance.
“I looked at that team and what we wanted to accomplish and it’s something I still think about,” he said. “We lost Tim Connolly in that series, Derek Roy was out most of the year, Rob Niedermayer was banged up, we lost Pommer in the playoffs too,” a reference to Jason Pominville’s skate cut in Game Five.
“It seemed anything bad that could happen did happen. It doesn’t bug me, but it’s something where I know my expectations were for that team.” Butler laughed when asked about the trade of Ryan Miller to St. Louis.
“I’d say it’s a pretty good fit right now,” a smiling Butler said of Miller, who is 7-0-1 with the Blues and has propelled St. Louis atop the NHL standings. “The way that team plays with how hard they work and how disciplined they are defensively, they don’t give up a ton of chances.”
Torrey Mitchell played his second game with the Sabres after missing six with a foot injury suffered March 6 at Tampa Bay. That was his first game after being acquired from Minnesota at the trade deadline.