The Calgary Flames lost Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final today.

I'll start off with an admission. I was never really a Flames fan. Sure, I'd gone to watch a few home games, but I don't even own a jersey or hat. Until this year, I had never watched Hockey Night in Canada from beginning to end. Hockey is supposed to be a big part of what Canada is, and what it means to be Canadian, but I'd never really been able to understand it.

But things are different now. I have never seen this city they way it has been these past few weeks. Flames flags were waving from every third car, and jerseys and t-shirts were part of the dress code in every school, office, and shop. As the Flames got farther in the playoffs, first defeating Vancouver, then Detroit, then San Jose, 17th avenue, just south of the downtown core, transformed into the Red Mile. At its peak, more than 50,000 people came to celebrate after each victory and loss (and also for the scenery. Names like Iginla, Regehr, Donovan, and Gelinas became known to people who had never even seen a hockey game.

After the Flames' win in game 5 of the final, I was sitting at a bench in front of Peters' Drive-in eating a hot dog, waiting for a friend to pick me up to take me to a game of Texas Hold'em. Peter's is on 16 avenue, a busy but narrow street that cuts across the city a bit north of the Bow River. Horns were already going off, especially at the intersection when the light was red. A minivan pulled into the parking lot, and a fortyish father stepped out and opened the side door. His pre-teen daughter and three of her friends burst out of the van and ran to the side of 16th avenue, decked out in red, and starting waving giant flags and honking bicycle horns. As the four girls screamed "Go Flames Go! at the traffic, the entire block came alive as every car on the street honked its horn as it passed.

As I sat on the train going home from downtown tonight, we stopped for a long time in the tunnel between City Hall and Erlton Stampede stations, near the Saddledome. One of the more paranoid passengers near me started panicking, shouting "Riot? Is there a riot?" I took off my earphones and waited for some kind of announcement. A few more minutes pased, and the inconvenient wait became a worrying one. As I fumbled with my iPod's remote to pause Polythene Pam, I started to hear something from outside, which was very strange because we were still in the tunnel. It was people at the next station singing O Canada.

Even though they'll come home without the Cup, the Flames' run at the playoffs gave me a taste of what it is that makes Canada a country, and they made this city one city.

Is Calgary proud of the Flames?

Yaaa Baby!