Iconic sports rivalries have been built to withstand the test of time.
No matter how talented the players. No matter what the coaches. No matter where the standings are. It doesn't matter who won the previous game or 10.
It's a seed between two teams that cannot be removed. Bad blood is simply transfused from one generation to another.
The Battle of Alberta — featuring Edmonton OilersAnd Calgary FlamesThis is the definition of rivalry. It has only gotten better over time, just like a fine wine. And the most recent vintage (Game 1ESPNA classic is??
Two hockey markets are located on opposite ends of the provincial highway in Alberta. They are filled with passionate fans and stretch for 300 kilometers. These fans have waited more than 30 years for the moment when their long-standing animus between the teams will finally come to an end in a postseason series.
It is finally here.
Calgary knocked off Dallas StarsIn a first-round series. Edmonton dropped the Los Angeles Kings. The reward for victory? A second round clash against the biggest opponent of each franchise.
This history lesson will help you understand the Battle of Alberta, one of the most infamous rivalries in hockey.
What is the Battle of Alberta?
It all began back in 1980.
Edmonton was just joining the NHL in 1979 when it merged into the World Hockey Association (WHA). The NHL's Atlanta Flames moved to Calgary shortly after. There is one professional team in each province's largest cities. Their hatred was natural.
It was the 1980s that began a general feeling out process. It wasn't long before Edmonton and Calgary were able to make their mark in the NHL. Wayne Gretzky was a star for the Oilers, and he broke every hockey record. Edmonton had built a dynastic hockey team by 1983. Glenn Anderson, Paul Coffey, Mark Messier, Grant FuhrAnd Jari Kurri. Behind their bench was Glen Sather, the legendary Glen Sather.
It's not surprising that Calgary is the team who are most interested in playing second to none — and especially Edmonton.
Both teams were driven to greatness by that bitterness. The Campbell Conference was a darling of both the Flames and Oilers from 1983 to 1990, when they won eight conference titles (six for Edmonton and two for Calgary). A club from Alberta won six of the eight Stanley Cup championships during this stretch (one by Calgary, five by Edmonton, in an unmatched feat of dominance in the past).
1989 was the Flames' best season. Lanny McDonald, Hall of Famer Al MacInnis, Joe Mullen, Doug GilmourAnd Joe NieuwendykThey went about their daily lives.
Calgary and Edmonton have played each others 256 times since the 1980-81 campaign. Calgary has the overall advantage with 128 wins compared to Edmonton's 110 (18 matches ended in a tie).
How did these two championship-caliber teams become so hateful of each other?
Playoffs, baby. Playoffs.
How did this feud get started?
Let's begin with the structure of the NHL postseason.
In the 1980s the playoffs were held for the top four teams of each division. The winners of each divisional round advanced to the conference finals.
Both Edmonton and Calgary belonged to the Smythe Division. Their most likely progression was to be through each other at one point. From 1983 through 1991, the Oilers met the Flames in five postseason series. Edmonton won four of the five postseason series (1984, 1988, 1991, and 1991), and then went on to win two more Cups.
The Oilers were defeated by Calgary in 1986 via Game 7. This game would see the boiling animosity rise to new heights. Oilers rookie defenseman Tyler O'Neill scored the winning goal. Steve SmithHe scored an own goal and a pass past Fuhr on his 23rd birthday. It was Calgary's game-winning goal.
1991 was a bad year for the real bad energy. Edmonton was leading the best-of-7 series 3-2 heading into Game 6. Theo Fleury stole Messier's pass and beat Fuhr on breakaway to secure a 3-2 overtime win for Calgary. This forced Game 7. It was the Esa Tikkanen Show. There, he scored a hat trick in overtime for the Oilers that hurt Calgary's chances.
Calgary would not see Edmonton in a postseason match. Until now.
After Gretzky was traded in 1988 to Los Angeles, the Oilers were not exactly the same. The Flames went through a retooling process after Calgary's win in 1989. They also cooled down.
For either side, it would take almost a decade to rebound. Calgary reached the Cup Finals in 2004 and lost Game 7 to the defending champions. Tampa Bay Lightning. The Flames continued to make playoff appearances through 2009, but then went six consecutive years without one. Edmonton was also facing the Carolina HurricanesIn the 2006 Cup Final, they lost in Game 7. The Oilers were not to be seen in the playoffs for the first time until 2016-17.
Despite not being dominant league-wide, the Flames and Oilers continued to fight each other over those years. In 2009-10, Calgary won the regular season series; in 2014-15, Edmonton took the title. Edmonton was victorious in 2016-17.
Among all that was a star-studded line-up additions making their mark on the rivalry.
Jordan EberleEdmonton: He joined the team and scored his NHL debut against Calgary on October 10, 2010. Miikka KiprusoffAs he flew (Bobby Orr style) into the boards. Mythical.
Connor McDavidHe's scored amazing goals against virtually everyone except Calgary. recording a hat trick against the FlamesIn their 2017-18 season-opening tilt, for instance — have a bit more cache.
Calgary's young phenom was the one who brought the Flames-Oilers rivalry to a new level.
In case you haven’t heard: Matthew TkachukIt has a little edge.
What's the latest news?
It was January 11, 2020. Calgary and Edmonton were fighting on Saturday night. Tkachuk is determined to get the Oilers tough guy. Zack KassianKassian hit two hard hits in the early hours of his attack, which Kassian described as “predatory”. One did indeed knock his helmet off. Kassian grabbed Tkachuk, throwing a punch and hoping to engage him in a fight.
Tkachuk refused to go for it. Kassian was given a double-minor penality for roughing, and Calgary won the power play.
Oilers fans called Tkachuk “Turtlechuk”, and Tkachuk was nicknamed that afterward. Kassian was given a two-game suspension because of his actions. Boom. Rivalry explodes.
Now, fast forward to Jan. 29. Kassian won his fight against Tkachuk in just the first period. He even thanked Tkachuk for it afterwards.
However, that would not be Edmonton-Calgary's most important headline for the week. It's not by any stretch.
Flames goalie, Brandon Flames, was involved in a scramble for the ball on Feb. 1. Cam TalbotHis efforts led him to punch Oilers' forward Sam Gagnerin the face. The line brawl ensued. Talbot got into a fight with several players but was eventually spotted by the Edmonton netminder Mike SmithHe headed towards the center of the ice. Talbot met Talbot at that spot, and they engaged in a thrilling goalie fight for all time:
Ironically, Talbot had previously played for Edmonton when Smith was playing in Calgary. The tension was real.
It is still today. Calgary and Edmonton met the last time on March 26th, when Calgary won a tiebreaker 4-4 to win 9-5.
In the grand scheme, neither team was affected by that night. This series will give more weight to every shift of each period and every game.
What's at stake?
One of Calgary or Edmonton will be going to the Western Conference finals. It's an extraordinary deal, even under normal circumstances. This bid will be against the most hated rival on each side. Glorious.
Calgary and Edmonton mayors are also making side wagers to honour their predecessors.
Jan Reimer (the mayor of those cities) and Al Duerr (the vice-mayors) said in 1991 that the person losing would ride an ice resurfacing device onto rival ice, wearing the sweater belonging to the other team. This was humiliating.
So it was with Calgary's Duerr. He had to pay the piper in an Oilers sweater. As he said to the crowd, “I look terrible wearing these colors!”
Jyoti Gordek, Calgary's current mayor, challenged Edmonton's Amarjeet Tohi to a similar challenge. The councillor from the losing team will be present at the first meeting of council in the rival team's jersey. To commemorate their win, the mayor will also attend.
It doesn't really matter what team you cheer for, I believe we all want that.