The Battle of Alberta
Patrick Coones (2L)
Regardless of whether you’ve lived in Edmonton or Calgary, meaningful hockey for the Oilers and the Flames in March means only one thing: The Battle of Alberta is back. This year is the first time since 2009 that the two teams have played each other while simultaneously holding a Stanley Cup Playoff spots. Currently, the Oilers hold the third spot in the Pacific Division with 85 points, while the Flames remain close at their heels with 84 points. Both teams have 11 games remaining in the Season which could lead to the two teams facing off against each other in the Playoffs. This potential matchup could give rise to the reinvigoration of one of the greatest team rivalries in sports.
Over the course of the season, the Oilers have had the Flames number going a perfect 4-0. The Oilers outscored the Flames 21-11 in those four games. However, the Flames have improved their play dramatically in their last ten games, posting a record of 9-1-0. The Oilers in the same stretch have a record of 5-4-1. This late season surge by the Flames has Albertan fans clamoring for a potential first-round meeting between the two teams. If the two teams end up playing each other, it would be the first time the teams have met in the playoffs since Esa Tikkanen scored the Overtime winner in game 7 of the first round in the 1991 playoff’s. To truly grasp how much has changed since then, here a few of the players on the teams’ 1991 roster. For the Oilers, Craig McTavish, Kevin Lowe, Mark Messier, Craig Simpson, Grant Fuhr, Bill Ranford played that year. For the Flames, Theo Fleury, Doug Gilmour, Al MacInnis, Joel Otto, and Mike Vernon were all contributing factors in that series.
A lot has changed regarding personnel as well as in the league itself. Gone are the days of seeing players playing without helmets and goals waived off because a player was standing in the crease. Instead, we now see video replays to confirm official’s calls nearly every game and shootouts to determine regular season overtime games that go past the 5-minute mark. We’ve also seen the league do away with two-line passes and loosen the rules on players being in the crease for goals scored. Heck, we have even seen the League restrict the size of goalie equipment.
Even with all the changes, one thing that hasn’t changed over the years is the intensity these two teams play with when pitted against each other for a playoff birth. The passion demonstrated in the most recent games between these two teams has increased markedly. The fact that there is more on the line than mere Provincial bragging rights has resulted in a significant increase in the number of hits, penalties, and fights by both teams. However, there is no comparison to the savagery and ruthlessness that these bitter rivals use to have for one another. In the 1990-91 season that I referred to earlier, over the course of the regular season the teams had a total of 136 match penalties and averaged almost 25 penalty minutes per game. In 1 game, the teams racked up five major penalties each on their way to a total of 237 minutes in penalties. That total is more than double the total amount of penalty minutes and fights that the teams have cumulatively against each other this season.
There’s no denying that the heated, rock ’em sock ’em hockey of old is no more, but even with all of these changes in place, there is no disagreement that Alberta cannot wait for these two teams to clash in the playoffs once more.