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Mike Vernon's number to join Lanny MacDonald's in the rafters of the Saddledome

The 43-year-old Vernon, who was born in Calgary, played his minor and junior hockey in the city and was drafted by the Flames, will see his number join Lanny MacDonald's No. 9 in the Pengrowth Saddledome rafters Feb. 6. "I'm a hometown boy. It makes me feel good," an emotional Vernon said Wednesday at a news conference. "I'm blessed to have had such a long career, to play here in my hometown in front of my family and friends."

The 43-year-old played 11 of his 17 NHL seasons in Calgary and was a pivotal player in the Flames' Stanley Cup win in 1989, when Vernon had three shutouts and 16 wins in the playoffs.

"That was definitely the highlight of my career here in Calgary," he said.

Among the franchise records Vernon holds are career games played both in the regular season (526) and playoffs (81) and most regular-season wins (259) and post-season victories (43).

He and MacDonald are the only two players to have their numbers retired in the 26-year history of the Flames.

MacDonald's number was retired in 1990.

"We consider this to be a pretty rare, special and incredible event," Flames president and CEO Ken King said. "It is the highest discretionary honour that a team can have for a player."

Vernon, a five-time NHL all-star, was 18 and driving home from high-school in 1981 when he heard on the radio that he'd been drafted by the Flames after the club's first season in the NHL.

While playing junior hockey for the Calgary Wranglers, he sat in the stands and learned by watching NHL goalies practice.

In his third career game with the Flames - the only one he played in the 1983-84 season - he gave up four goals in 10 minutes to the Edmonton Oilers, so his goals-against average in the NHL that year was 22.22.

"There were a lot of doubts before that that I could even play in this league," Vernon said. "Letting in four goals in 10 minutes against Edmonton, I wondered if I would ever play."

But after he was called up from the minors in 1985-86 he led the Flames to the Stanley Cup final where they lost in five games to Montreal.

"I think that was a big hurdle for me to say 'I really can do this' and play in this league," Vernon said.

Calgary beat Montreal in six games to win the Cup in 1989, which was the last time two Canadian clubs met in the final. The Flames won Game 6 at The Forum.

"We weren't sure how the fans would react. They'd never lost a Cup in Montreal and this would be the first," Vernon recalled. "The class of the Montreal Canadiens fans, they stood and gave us an ovation."

It wasn't always easy for Vernon as the hometown boy who was the Flames' last line of defence and there were times he felt the strain.

"My career started here, so I was still developing as a player," he said. "Yes, I made some mistakes. The scrutiny was here, yes, but also it helped me become a better NHL player and move on with my career.

"The Flames organization from the day that I got drafted was a big part of the moulding of my 17 years in the National Hockey League."

After nine seasons in Calgary, Vernon was traded to Detroit where he won another Stanley Cup and the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP in 1997.

Vernon played three seasons in San Jose and one in Florida before returning to Calgary for two more and retiring in 2002.

Vernon ranks fifth all-time in minutes played (8,214) and playoff games (138) by an NHL goaltender behind Patrick Roy, Ed Belfour, Martin Brodeur and Grant Fuhr in both categories. He's 10th in all-time wins with 385.

Roy and Fuhr are in the Hockey Hall of Fame and Vernon, who lives in Calgary and has four children, hopes to join them one day.

"I do think about it on occasion, especially when I retired and my name was first put onto the list," he said. "When it does come up, you wonder about it and if you will get chosen."

"The organization is recognizing my career and numbers and accomplishments. I think that is a big step."


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