There’s a mantra in Edmonton, “ABC”, which means “Anybody But Calgary” of course. It can apply to just about everything, but it is especially the case for sports. Fans in Edmonton simply don’t like their provincial rivals. If your favourite team is the Edmonton Oilers, then your most hated team is the Calgary Flames. That’s just the way it is.
But there’s always an exception to the rule, special circumstances that call for drastic measures. Even Thor and Loki teamed up for the greater good.
And so it’s a bit baffling that more Oilers fans aren’t cheering for the Flames to defeat the Dallas Stars in their first-round playoff series. The Stars beat the Flames 4-2 in Texas on Friday to even the series at 3-3, forcing the deciding Game 7 at the Scotiabank Saddledome on Sunday.
Should Calgary win, it would set up “The Battle of Alberta” in a second-round series between the Flames and Oilers. Edmonton has advanced with a 2-0 victory over the Los Angeles Kings on Saturday night at Rogers Place in Game 7 of the series. Mike Smith got the shutout, and Cody Ceci notched the winning goal against L.A. for the Oilers, who are off to the second round for the first time since 2017.
Over Three Decades Without Oilers and Flames Series
While it is one of the most storied rivalries in hockey, it has been an incredible 31 years since Calgary and Edmonton faced off in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Edmonton beat the Flames 4-3 in the 1991 Smythe Division Semifinal, with Game 7 going to overtime before Esa Tikkanen scored the series-winning goal at the Saddledome.
Between 1983 and 1991, the Flames and Oilers met in five postseason series, captivating every Albertan, even those who otherwise would just as soon watch a test pattern rather than a hockey game on TV. The intensity of the games resonated beyond the rinks and across the provinces, electrifying two fan bases, whose love for their own team and city could be matched only by detest for the other.
The Oilers were dynastic, and the Flames were always right on their heels. For eight consecutive years from 1983 to 1990, an Alberta team was in the Stanley Cup Final. It was an incredible time, and to be able to experience it was something every sports fan should, but few are fortunate enough to. Outside of the New York Yankees and the Boston Red Sox, the Boston Celtics and the Los Angeles Lakers, and a handful of other sporting rivalries, there’s nothing like it.
Yet, it seems that most Oilers fans would rather see the Flames bow out to the Stars than they would get to experience a playoff Battle of Alberta.
Maybe because it’s been so long that people who lived it have forgotten. There’s a whole generation of fans who don’t know what they’re missing because there literally has not been an NHL playoff clash between Edmonton and Calgary during their lifetime.
Oilers Most Anticipated Games Are Against Flames
There is never a bigger regular-season occasion than when Calgary and Edmonton lock horns. These are the most anticipated dates on the schedule every year, inspiring many road trips of fans to invade enemy turf. There’s a reason why fans get so excited for these games. Now imagine that excitement cranked up to a playoff level and repeated four to seven times.
One could understand if Oilers fans were reluctant to get on board with rooting for the Flames, for fear that if Calgary would advance and Edmonton wouldn’t. They’d be left disappointed (again), watching with envy as their greatest rival got to celebrate and enjoy everything they so badly wanted, the magic of more playoff hockey.
That certainly was the case just a couple days ago, when the Flames were leading their series 3-2 and on the verge of advancing while the Oilers trailed Los Angeles 3-2 and stared down the end of their season. It doesn’t apply, however, now that Edmonton has rallied to defeat the Kings.
Oilers and Flames Rarely Make Playoffs in Same Year
It’s not just some fans that seem disinclined to see a springtime Battle of Alberta. The hockey gods haven’t appeared in favour of it either. Since that unforgettable Smythe Division Semifinal series in 1991, Edmonton and Calgary have only made the playoffs in the same year three times (2006, 2017, 2020).
What’s more, in two of those three postseasons, they were on a collision course to meet each other in the second round, only to have the Flames bow out in round one. In 2006, Calgary blew a 3-2 lead and was eliminated in seven games by the Anaheim Ducks, and in 2017 Calgary was swept by the Ducks.
Now here we are again, one Calgary win away from the Battle of Alberta, playoff-style. There are Edmonton fans who say they can never cheer for Calgary, that they just want to see the Flames get eliminated. However, wouldn’t said supporters want to see the Flames get eliminated at the hands of the Oilers?
That’s not even mentioning that there should be no love lost in Edmonton for the Stars, who are the Oilers’ biggest playoff rival (and mostly tormentor) in the last 30 years.
Oilers fans, put everything aside for one night only, to cheer on Johnny Gaudreau and company. As soon as the clock runs out and the Flames are victorious, go right back to being all about that “ABC”. Bring energy unseen in three decades because you won’t regret it. Once in the throes of the Battle of Alberta, you’ll never want anything less.
Brian is an Edmonton-based sports writer and broadcaster. His experience includes working as a sports reporter for the Edmonton Sun, where he covered the Edmonton Oil Kings 2013-14 Memorial Cup championship season.