‘The Battle of Alberta’ is Hockey’s Greatest Rivalry

By Neil Becker

There is absolutely no debate that the most heated and talked about rivalry in today’s NHL is The Battle of Alberta.

This intense rivalry, which features the Edmonton Oilers and Calgary Flames, was officially born on October 22, 1980, when a young Oilers enforcer named Dave Semenko scored a couple of goals during a 5-3 win at Northlands Coliseum in Edmonton.

Oilers forward Mark Messier and Flames forward Jim Peplinski made hockey history that night by getting into the first ‘Battle of Alberta’ fight.

A couple of months later, on December 30 in Calgary, the infancy of what some have called the greatest rivalry in sports took a giant step forward. Playing their second game against one another, there was definitely a growing hate as both teams had three fights that night and 211 penalty minutes. That night also saw 14 misconduct penalties and four players getting whistled for leaving the bench.

During the 1980s, which was the heyday of this rivalry, fans were entertained by the explosive offence of such Oilers Hall of Fame players as Wayne Gretzky, Mark Messier and Glenn Anderson who along with the Flames Theo Fleury, Joe Nieuwendyk, Lanny McDonald and Al MacInnis were just some of the many gifted players in this rivalry who filled up the scoresheet.

long with high-scoring run-and-gun hockey, this much talked about rivalry provided exceptional goaltending from Oilers Hall of Famer Grant Fuhr and Flames Mike Vernon, who competed save for save in the early to mid-1980s.

Videos have been made, and many books have been written documenting The Battle of Alberta rivalry, which detailed the intense hate these teams had for each other.

Naturally, there have been countless bloody fights over the years, involving such prominent sluggers as Oilers Dave Semenko, Marty McSorley, Kevin McLellan, Kelly Buchberger, Dave Brown and George Laraque to name a few. They never hesitated to exchange blows with the likes of Flames Jim Peplinski, Joel Otto, Sandy McCarthy, Paul Baxter and Tim Hunter, who were just some of a long list of names.

The rivalry reached its fever pitch in the late 1980s when occasionally tempers would boil over, and fans would be treated to some long and bloody line brawls. Don’t forget that at this time, these two teams were in the Smythe Division, which meant they played one another numerous times in the season and would frequently meet in the post-season.

Two years ago, in February 2020, the temperature in The Battle of Alberta rivalry was turned up when late in the second period of an eventual 8-3 Oilers win, both Edmonton goalie Mike Smith and Flames goalie Cam Talbot were at center ice exchanging haymakers. This came at the same time Oilers Ethan Bear and Flames Matthew Tkachuk were exchanging punches. 

This game, which also featured some other fights, occurred a couple of weeks after Oilers Zack Kassian was suspended for two games due to punching Flames Tkachuk.

Heading into this season, hockey fans have been treated to five highly intense Battle of Alberta past playoff series, which are still often talked about to this day.

After a 31-year absence, the hockey gods have finally granted every hockey fan’s wish, which was another Battle of Alberta playoff series.

In mid-May, hockey fans, especially those across Alberta, were glued to their television sets during the Western Conference semi-finals as the Oilers and Flames met for the sixth installment of The Battle of Alberta.

This was the first Battle of Alberta playoff matchup since 1991 when in the Smythe Division Semi Finals Oilers forward Esa Tikkanen made rivalry history when he shocked the Olympic Saddledome crowd by scoring the Game 7 series-winning overtime goal in a 5-4 win.

Prior to playing this spring, these two Alberta teams had met in some highly memorable and much talked about playoff series.

The first playoff series occurred in 1983 when the Oilers needed only five games to defeat Calgary in the Smythe Division Finals.

Edmonton, who finished first overall that year with 106 points, won the first three games by 6-3, 5-1 and 10-2 scores. The Flames, who earned 78 points and placed 12th overall, successfully avoided elimination as they won Game 4 by a 6-5 decision before losing Game 5 by a 9-1 score to lose the series.

Leading the Flames’ offence was defenceman Paul Reinhart, who scored six goals in the series.

Meanwhile, the Oilers, who outscored Calgary by a 35-13 count, were led by Gretzky, who produced six goals and 14 points in the five games.

A year later, in 1984, these teams met again in the second installment of ‘The Battle of Alberta,’ which this time went the full seven games. Once again, homes in Alberta were decorated with Flames or Oilers flags as these two teams battled it out in the Smythe Division Finals. In the seventh and deciding game of that series, Gretzky, along with Jari Kurri and Pat Hughes, had three points games to pace the Oilers to a series winning 7-4 win.

That spring, the Oilers would go on to defeat the New York Islanders in the finals to capture their first Stanley Cup.

The one lasting image die-hard hockey fans of a certain age would remember took place in the spring of 1986 when the Flames finally got some revenge as they defeated Edmonton in the Smythe Division finals. The image occurred early in the third period of Game 7 when Oilers defenceman Steve Smith collapsed on the ice in utter shock after accidentally banking a clearing pass off goalie Grant Fuhr’s pad and into his own net. That goal, which was credited to Flames Perry Berezan, became the Game 7 series-winning goal. Following the victory, thousands of Calgarians drove to Electric Avenue and waved Canadian flags while celebrating the victory. That year Calgary went on to the Stanley Cup finals, where they lost in five games to the Montreal Canadiens.

In 1988, these two teams met again in the Smythe Division Finals, and this time, the Oilers got the last laugh as they swept the Flames.

Looking to get some revenge, the Oilers won the four games by scores of 3-1, 5-4 in overtime, 4-2 and 6-4. Edmonton would go on that spring to defeat the Boston Bruins in the Stanley Cup Finals.

Another lasting image of this rivalry came in 1991 when the Oilers and Flames met for the fifth time in the post-season. Competing in the Smythe Division Semi-Finals, Flames forward Theo Fleury scored a Game 6 overtime goal which was followed by an unbelievable reaction.

The Flames, who were looking to stave off elimination, found themselves at Northlands Coliseum in overtime when at the 4:40 mark a hero emerged in Fleury.

Fleury intercepted a pass from Messier and went in alone on Fuhr where he scored before giving an unforgettable reaction which included excitedly skating up the ice in celebration before sliding on his knees and waving his arms in excitement.

Calgary might have won that game by a 2-1 score, but Edmonton came back two nights later as Esa Tikkanen scored the Game 7 series overtime winner in a 5-4 win.

This spring, during the latest Battle of Alberta installment, fans got to see lots of goals, hard body checks and some overtime magic in what was a much talked about unforgettable series. 

Dominating the first Battle of Alberta in 31 years were Oilers captain Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl.

Draisaitl totalled two goals and 17 points, while McDavid had two goals and 12 points. His biggest goal occurred at 5:03 of overtime when he scored the Game 5 series winner in a 5-4 win.

This year’s Battle of Alberta series started with a thrilling curtain-raiser as the Flames built up a second period 5-1 lead before hanging on for a 9-6 Game 1 win.

Making their mark in the rivalry were Flames forward Matthew Tkachuk, who scored a Game 1 hattrick and teammates Andrew Mangiapane, Johnny Gaudreau and defenceman Rasmus Andersson who all had three-point games. Meanwhile, leading the Oilers’ offence was McDavid, who in that opener registered four points, followed by Draisaitl, who had three and Zach Hyman, who scored two goals.

The Battle of Alberta naturally had some physicality involving such players as Flames forward Milan Lucic, Tkachuk, and Mikael Backlund going against Oilers Evander Kane, Josh Archibald and Zack Kassian, to name a few.

Edmonton went on a run after that game as they took Game 2 by a 5-3 score before winning the next three by 4-1, 5-3 and the 5-4 overtime series win, which punched the Oilers’ ticket to the Western Conference finals.

Edmonton, who hasn’t been to the Western Conference Finals since 2005-06, will face another big challenge as they play the Colorado Avalanche.

“I think you’re going to have so much energy and excitement from both cities. Everybody’s been waiting for it,” Flames alumni Colin Patterson, who isn’t a stranger to the rivalry, told Global News Morning. “I think it’s great for Canada and I think it’s great for the game, for the NHL to have those fierce rivalries get together, finally, again in the playoffs.”

A strong argument could be made that The Battle of Alberta is the biggest rivalry ever in sports. Whether playoffs, pre-season exhibition or regular season, these two teams definitely don’t like one another and badly want to prove that they are Alberta’s top team.

Here is to hoping we as hockey fans don’t have to wait another 31 years to see the next Battle of Alberta playoff series.

Share this post: