With the way things could shape up heading into the 2017 playoffs, there is increasingly a chance that the Battle of Alberta will resume this year. Social media is abuzz with the possibility of this happening in round one.
I remember fondly all the match-ups and series of the 80’s between the Calgary Flames and the Edmonton Oilers. This was arguably the best hockey I have ever seen in my life, and some of the roughest and meanest. The only rivalry I have ever witnessed that has ever come close happened in the 1970’s between Montreal and Boston. Of course in the 1980’s between Calgary and Edmonton, no fans were ever attacked with their own shoe by a player climbing into the stands off the ice.
However, the 80’s had Tim Hunter, Nick Fotiu, Dave Semenko and Marty McSorely. Fans were treated constantly to the reason why Hunter’s nose was so big and misaligned: Dave Semenko had a bad habit of kneeing Hunter in the face whenever he was losing in fights between the two. Of course this happened a lot.
With Nick Fotiu I remember his legendary attempt to get to Edmonton coach Glen Sather or the non-fight he had with the Oilers’ Marty McSorley: The two skated in circles, each waiting for the other to throw the first punch. McSorley knew about Fotiu’s martial arts background and was simply not going to be the first to throw down while Fotiu was just waiting for it to happen.
Aside from the goons, Calgary had Hakan Loob, Joe Mullen, Joel Otto, Gary Suter, Al MacInnis and Lanny McDonald. Edmonton had Jari Kurri, Mark Messier, Paul Coffey, Glenn Anderson, Mark Napier and of course Wayne Gretzky. Lanny led Calgary, Wayne led Edmonton. Both these players highlighted the difference between the two teams: Lanny was the prototypical power forward, and Gretzky was the smooth-skating superstar of the entire league. the Flames weren’t afraid to play a tough, mean game and a few of their wins can be attributed to intimidation of other teams. However, with a roster of more than just the players listed above, the Flames could also beat their opponents with skill.
The Edmonton Oilers of the 80’s were a mirror image of the Flames: They would destroy opponents with skill, but could also win the rough-and-tumble affairs with their own heavy hitters. The Oilers had a penchant for running up scores in games and embarrassing their opponents, an action that made them overall the most hated team in the NHL outside of northern Alberta. It gave the blue-collar city full of Oiler fans a chance to look down their noses at their rivals to the south, the white collar city of Calgary. The one thing fans of both teams would agree on: Whenever they met in the playoffs, that series should have been for the Stanley Cup.
Those under the age of 30 have only experienced faint shadows of what once was: A bitter rivalry with heated debates in a never-ending cycle where the only thing that mattered in an NHL season was beating the other team. When one attended or watched any regular season or playoff game between these teams, one packed a lunch. A game that should have lasted no more than 2 1/2 hours could take close to four hours from opening face-off to the final buzzer. Calgary and Edmonton weren’t the only reason the rules changed as far as fighting and having enforcers on your team, they were just the main reason.
Today, with three teams within a single point of each other, its becoming more likely that Calgary and Edmonton will face each other in round one of this year’s post season. The Flames have a fantastic opportunity to finish as high as 2nd with home ice advantage. So do the Oilers. It’s very possible these two teams can finish in 2nd and 3rd, which immediately puts them on a collision course in round one. This is not the most desirable of match-ups to kick off the playoffs.
The intensity would be great, both between the teams and between the fans, but the winning team would definitely experience a let-down going into round two. It would be inevitable. Additionally, one Canadian team is guaranteed to be eliminated in the opening round.
More than bragging rights are at stake: Edmonton is currently aware of having swept the Flames in their regular season series. Calgary, meanwhile, is fully aware that all the games played took place well before the Flames went on their impressive streak: 7 wins, 4 losses, and 1 overtime loss. While the Oilers have been in the middle of the pack for wins and losses since that last meeting in January, the Flames look to have found their game. Edmonton will want to prove hockey supremacy in Alberta, Calgary will want sweet revenge.
By the same token, provided the stars all align correctly, there is even a slim chance that these two teams could meet in the West Division Final, with the winner going on to vie for the Cup. This would be the best case scenario however unlikely. The absolute earliest these two teams should meet is round two, like it was back in the 1980’s.
Alberta fans desperately want these two teams to collide in this year’s playoffs. The league will benefit greatly from it. The hockey will be the best seen by everyone since the heyday of the 1980’s. This can be a main event match-up that will likely steal the show. It would be tragic on many levels for them to become the opening act: The rest of the post season would just feel like a letdown.