As the Edmonton Oilers and Calgary Flames prepare for Game 1 of their Round 2 Western Conference Playoff Series, fans are also gearing up for the first Battle of Alberta (BOA) in 31 years. For a generation of Oilers and Flames fans who weren’t around in 1991, or were very young, this is their first chance to experience a BOA that means almost everything to both cities and franchises.
You can tell that stakes are high, as fans of the Oilers and Flames began trading barbs through social media literally seconds after the Flames Johnny Gaudreau scored the OT series winner for the Flames against the Dallas Stars in their Round 1 Western Conference series.
Not Your Father’s Battle of Alberta
This series between the Oilers and Flames is going to be something Albertans have never experienced before. For those of us old enough to remember all of the previous Battle of Alberta playoff series, you have to know that this first BOA in the age of social media has the potential to be the most emotionally charged series in Oilers and Flames history — or at least it will be for the fans.
If you cheer for either team, you have to hope that key players such as Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl, Jacob Markstrom and Johnny Hockey will keep their emotions in check. That could be one of the keys to either team winning the best of seven series.
One of the Best Rivalries Not Only in Hockey, but in Sports
The Edmonton/Calgary rivalry goes back over a century, where the two cities battled over the rights to the Canadian Pacific Railway line, which Calgary won. And then there was the selection of the Alberta capital, which Edmonton won. Both cities have gone head-to-head both in business and culturally over the decades, but it seems like having the best hockey team might be the most important claim to fame for either city in 2022.
When it comes to hockey, the two best teams in the NHL in the late 1980s early 1990s were the Oilers and Flames. Both teams were not very fond of each other, and this filtered down to their respective fan bases. The Oilers/Flames rivalry was matched only by the Red Sox and Yankees in Baseball, or Tom Brady vs. Peyton Manning in the NFL. Oilers fans of a certain age fondly remember Wayne Gretzky’s OT winner over the shoulder of Flames goalie Mike Vernon in Game 2 of the 1988 Battle of Alberta playoff series. That goal is considered maybe the greatest goal Gretzky scored in his illustrious career.
Flames fans who were around for Theo Fleury’s OT winner in Game 6 of the 1991 Smythe Division semifinal will always remember the goal, not to mention Fleury’s epic celebration as he slid the length of the ice on his knees wildly waving his hands.
There are other big goals and moments in the history of the Battle of Alberta, but the biggest moment might have come off the stick of the Oilers’ Steve Smith in the third period of the 1986 Smythe Division Final, when he banked the puck off Oilers goaltender Grant Fuhr and into his own net. That goal would stand up as the winner in the Flames’ 3-2 Game 7 victory. One can only imagine if smartphones and social media would’ve existed back then, because the posts would’ve been out of this world. That’s why this 2022 playoff version of the Battle of Alberta is going to be memorable for the fans, especially those who’ve never experienced hockey this intense in Alberta before.
The posturing on all social platforms is going to be unreal, and fans are most likely to be worked up into a frenzy never seen before. One can only hope that the banter stays as civil as possible, and both fan bases retain some sort of respectable behavior. Anything less would be a shame.
Who Will Emerge Victorious in 2022?
The Flames had the edge in points in the regular season and boast a “made for the playoffs team” led by Vezina trophy finalist Jacob Markstrom. Forwards such as Gaudreau, Matthew Tkachuk, and Elias Lindholm are all coming off of career highs in points. Finally, a defensive core led by Rasmus Andersson and Noah Hanifin has been one of the best in the NHL throughout the 2021-22 season.
The Oilers, meanwhile, are led by Art Ross Trophy winner Connor McDavid, as well as one of the best players in the game, Leon Draisaitl. Forwards, Zach Hyman and Evander Kane have bolstered the forward group, while Darnell Nurse leads a d-core featuring a strong mix of youth and veterans. The wildcard in this series could be Oilers 40-year old goaltender Mike Smith. If Smith is able to channel his old-man power in a Tom Brady kind of way, then the Oilers have a chance. If not, the Flames are going to roll.
My prediction: I think the Oilers are going to win the 2022 Battle of Alberta Playoff Series in 6 Games, because of the intangibles that Connor McDavid brings. Like superstars before him such as Bobby Orr, Gretzky, and Mario Lemieux, I believe this is McDavid’s time.
Let me know who your pick is to win the first Battle of Alberta since 1991. Post it on social media if you want. Just remember to be respectful, because after all, in the end it’s still just a game.
D. Edward Bochon covers the Edmonton Oilers. His background is in marketing writing where he worked with the Edmonton Oilers, the Edmonton Football Club (now known as the Elks), and the Edmonton Rush of the NLL.