NHL Column: The Battle of Alberta

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Edmonton Oilers' Patrick Russell, right, fights with Calgary Flames' Noah Hanifin during the third period of an NHL hockey game Saturday, in Calgary, Alberta.  Photo courtesy of Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press via AP

Edmonton Oilers’ Patrick Russell, right, fights with Calgary Flames’ Noah Hanifin during the third period of an NHL hockey game Saturday, in Calgary, Alberta. Photo courtesy of Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press via AP

Western Canada, an arctic tundra often forgotten by the rest of North America, has now become the center of hockey’s hottest clash. The cozy Canadian cities of Calgary and Edmonton now share the excitement of a reignited Battle of Alberta. The Flames and Oilers are the prime combatants of the game’s best current rivalry.

The latest edition of the rivalry, a home and home between the clubs, brought us some of the best action yet. It was Saturday Night where a nastier than usual brawl between the teams brought an unusual suspect, Flames goaltender Cam Talbot, to the heat of the melee. Talbot exchanged words and punches with some Oilers skaters backed, of course, by his own teammates.  

This provoked the Oilers goalie, Mike Smith, quite lonely at the opposite end of the ice. He skated to center ice to wait patiently, hoping Talbot would meet him there. Meanwhile, two skaters engaged in fisticuffs as a result of Brawl near Talbot’s net. This was quickly overshadowed as Talbot moseyed over to greet his fellow netminder awaiting at center. With their masks, gloves and blockers already removed in preparation, the fight was on.  

Smith pummeled Talbot to the ground after multiple punches, the crowd jolted in awe of the spectacle of a rare goalie fight. Per the rules, as the second fight on the play, both Talbot and Smith were ejected from the game.  

Saturday’s contest, filled with bitter hate, proved that tremendous rivalries can still exist it today’s game. The battle was an addition to a piling list of incidents between the two squads this season.  

Earlier in the season, the extent of mutual displeasure came to the forefront when the Flames’ Brady Tkachuk began bullying Zach Kassian of the Oilers. Tkachuk, known for being a nuisance, knocked Kassian to the ice multiple times during the same sequence. After boiling over in frustration, Kassian smacked Tkachuk relentlessly. After the game, the Oilers’ forward called out Tkachuk for refusing to drop the gloves and fight him. Instead of a fight, Kassian received a penalty on the play, leading to the Flames game winning goal. In their next meeting Thursday night, Tkachuk did not back down, agreeing to fight Kassian in front of a rowdy Edmonton crowd.  

As the season progresses, the hate between the clubs appears to heighten. Rooted in the proximity of the teams, but also built on the rising skill of each organization, the rivalry between the Flames and Oilers has restored the life in hockey in Alberta. With it, they have stolen the attention of the league. Fans who usually take little notice in what happens in the northwest now may be quite compelled by these snarly clubs and their devoted, rabid fanbases.  

The Oilers and Flames are not scheduled to meet again until April 4, the last day of the regular season. Although it may be a long wait, if everything aligns properly, it could be just a preview of the action to come during a seven game playoff series.  

As of now, the Oilers sit in second place in the Pacific Division with 62 points, while the Flames are in fourth with 60. If they somehow fall into the second and third seeds in that division, they would be bound by a playoff meeting this spring.  

This matchup could rejuvenate the concept of a playoff rivalry that has been far less apparent since the institution of the league’s new bracket playoff system. The combination of stars like Connor McDavid and Johnny Gaudreau with the nasty hatred infused into every game would make for one of the most highly anticipated series in recent memory.


Dylan Barrett is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at dylan.barrett@uconn.edu. He tweets @dylan_barrett_.

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