As the old hockey game joke goes: “We went to a fight, and a hockey game broke out.”
The fight that became a hockey game between the Edmonton Oilers and the Calgary Flames that took place on Feb. 1 had been brewing for a few days, but when it finally happened it didn’t disappoint. That is, of course, unless you’re a Flames fan. Then, of course, it was a terrible, horrible, no good and very bad day – even if your name isn’t Alexander.
However, from the Oilers’ point of view, it was payback. Here, from the Oilers’ point of view, are the “rounds” leading up to fight included.
Round One: Matthew Tkachuk Lines-Up Zack Kassian
This all started when the Flames’ Matthew Tkachuk had laid a couple of hits on the Oilers’ Zack Kassian during the team’s January 11th game.
Obviously, the reaction to the hits was mixed. I have to say that, because I cut my teeth on Oilers’ hockey and recall the Battle of Alberta from the 1980s, it certainly looked as if Tkachuk was trying to injure Kassian with the blindsided hits to Kassian’s back near the boards.
But, when the Head of the NHL Player Safety Committee George Parros weighed in on the action, he ruled those hits were not illegal. Although I personally think he’s wrong – or should be, an upset Kassian reacted well by laying it back on the NHL’s feet by responding something like “OK, now I know what the rules are, I’m a big boy and I can play by those rules, too.” That had to make fans feel something was coming.
Round Two: Mark Giordano Goes Knee-on-Knee with Connor McDavid
Then, during the Jan. 29th Battle of Alberta, as Connor McDavid tried to elude Flames’ defenseman Mark Giordano in the neutral zone, Giordano stuck out his left knee (or hip, leg or whatever…) to slow the speeding McDavid. Considering McDavid spent so much time during the summer working to rehab an injury on the same leg, the Oilers’ star was honestly, but uncharacteristically upset. In fact, McDavid was furious about the referees missing a clear interference call and snapped his stick in half on the bench in protest.
Round Three: David Rittich Tosses His Stick After Stopping Leon Draisaitl During Shootout
During a shootout victory by the Flames over the Oilers on Wednesday night, All-Star goalie David Rittich celebrated with a stick toss after making the game-winning shootout save on Leon Draisaitl. Draisaitl weighed in on it by saying, ”It’s just disrespectful. We hit two posts and he’s celebrating like they just won the Stanley Cup. Just show some respect, that’s my opinion.”
Obviously, I’m not a hockey purist because, unlike Draisaitl, I wasn’t too upset about the stick toss. To be truthful, I was angrier that Draisaitl didn’t follow through when he vowed that he wouldn’t play with Tkachuk during the All-Star game; but, then he did.
The Battle of Alberta Is Like Déjà vu All Over Again
With today being Groundhog Day, and referring to the great Bill Murray movie with the same name, it’s not a surprise that, as Yogi Berra once said, this Battle of Alberta is “déjà vu all over again.”
Even old Flames’ enforcer Neil Sheehy weighed in suggesting that Tkachuk’s hit on Kassian “wasn’t a cheap shot. It was a good hit. I thought Tkachuk went easy on him, and I think that’s scary because it was a big hit. I understand Kassian wants to fight, but if the game is on the line, if I’m Tkachuk, I’m not fighting. I think the only way Tkachuk would ever fight him is if his team is going to gain an edge from it.”
But then Sheehy never fought when he was challenged either. He was nicknamed the “The Butcher of Harvard,” because he was a guy who made a similar career to Tkachuk during the 1980s by beating on Wayne Gretzky and then turtling when he was challenged by Oilers’ big men Dave Semenko or Don Jackson. So, what does one expect from this former participant in the Battle of Alberta?
My point is that the Battle of Alberta has been getting hyped for a long time. And, now that it’s back, there should be no surprise it’s turned out to be a wildly exciting and insanely entertaining set of games.
As well, the games have also a bit rowdy – they are just the kind of games good Canadian hockey fans appreciate. In fact, I wish I had a dime for every time someone said after the game that they hoped the two teams would meet in a Stanley Cup playoff round.
Obviously, it was also exactly the game the NHL was expecting so they made sure the Head of the NHL Player Safety Committee George Parros was in the crowd. Actually, he was already in Alberta from when these two teams last met. He was right to stay; however, he’s in a bit of a bind if he really believes anything should be done to tone down these games. They have been some of the most entertaining hockey games played all season.
Will There Be Any Supplemental Discipline?
There were a number of fights during this game and tons of cheap shots from both teams. Tkachuk fought with defenseman Ethan Bear, and the best of the fights happened at center ice between goalies Cam Talbot and Mike Smith. It wasn’t a contest; and, as Kelly Hrudey noted, good on Smith for holding up on Talbot when he had him down.
However, when Elliotte Friedman was asked about supplemental discipline last night on Sportsnet, he immediately shook his head “No.” For him, and for most fans, this game, while often chaotic, should be simply considered two teams settling things on the ice.
I trust they are correct that no action or suspensions will come from anything that happened on the ice. Parros and the NHL cannot have it both ways: they cannot hope for entertaining Canadian hockey and then tone it down. I almost missed Don Cherry last night after the game.
So, What Have We Learned About the Battle of Alberta?
Mike Smith and David Rittich spent the last two seasons as goalie teammates in Calgary. Smith acknowledged that the pair have an on-going relationship, but he too believed the Flames goalie took things too far and noted, ”What goes around comes around.”
He also admitted that Calgary “kind of took it to us the last three times we’ve played them … Tonight was a lot better.” (Smith’s now an Oiler.)
Even young Oiler newcomer Kailer Yamamoto is learning quickly. As he answered Hockey Night in Canada host Scott Oake when he was asked, “What have you learned about the Battle of Alberta?” Yamamoto smiled and answered: “We hate each other. The hatred is real.”
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