TAMPA - More than a week before the Stanley Cup matchup was finalized, a Calgary newspaper, waxing about the Flames' front-office woes of the past decade, referred to current Lightning left wing Chris Dingman as another first-round flop.
The Flames, then under the leadership of general manager Doug Risebrough, had drafted the strapping 18-year-old Brandon Wheat Kings wing 19th overall in the 1994 entry draft, but soured on him after he played 72 games in parts of two seasons in Calgary. Dingman, a ruffian who had scored 87 goals and 196 points in 201 games in the junior Western Hockey League, was ineffective in two minor-league stints and managed six points and was minus-13 in his short Flames career. He was shipped to Colorado for the 1998-99 season. The situation was far from ideal for a young player, Dingman said, especially on a team slowly becoming a loser.
"It was tough," he said. "I had a lot of success in juniors, and when I was 18, I played eight of nine games (in Flames camp) and stuck right to the start (of the season). When I was 20, I didn't play any games and was sent down. . . . They were writing in the paper I was done and it was my last chance and I had not even played a pro game.
"At the time, there was a lot of pressure and they weren't winning and they wanted people to step in right away. Maybe you didn't have the time to develop (what) you needed. I enjoyed my time there, but the move I got going to Colorado was good for me."
Dingman, whose trade sent current Flames defenseman Robyn Regehr to Calgary, teased the Flames his first time back to the Saddledome as an Avalanche player, scoring two goals, including the winner on Nov. 13, 1999.
"Some guy yelled, "It was your best shift in the building!,"' Dingman chuckled. "I kind of got a kick out of that."
Dingman has never produced the flashy offensive statistics the Flames envisioned, and his role as a fourth-line checker and enforcer assures the 6-foot-4, 235-pounder that he will accrue many more penalty minutes than points. But he can be an asset in both areas. In Game 3 of the East semifinals against Montreal, Dingman was issued a 10-minute misconduct penalty, a chunk of his 39 for the playoffs. In Game 1 of the East final, he scored his first goal of the playoffs.
It's easier for Dingman to emphasize what good memories he has of Calgary after winning a Stanley Cup. He keeps his championship ring close, zippered in a small compartment in his shaving kit.
"It's fun to have around," he said. "It gives me something more to worry about.
"I had a close call one time at one of those Glitz and Sticks events," he said. "It's 5 in the morning after it and I wake up and I'm like, "Where's my ring?' I had left it in the tuxedo. That was a close call."
Lightning official Bill Wickett was able to recover the ring from the tuxedo jacket.
Dingman doesn't seem to glean any particular pleasure from the prospect of winning a second Stanley Cup at the expense of the team that discarded him. As an Edmonton native, he sees Calgary as another part of life in Alberta a couple hours down Provincial Route 2.
"It's nice every time you go back to Calgary," Dingman said. "You get to see where you started."