You actually hear on ESPN and the NHL network on-air that late last night the news that Alberta will have a new war. For the first time since 1991 and for the second time since Wayne Gretzky stopped standing on their necks, Calgary Flames finally got a showdown with their arch-rivals on Highway 2. The Flames did just that by fixing the styling of Jake Ottinger’s goal in Dallas with the help of helpless Johnny Goodreau aka Johnny Hockey’s overtime goal.
As you can see, the Canadian teams playing each other in the Stanley Cup playoffs is a big issue, since there have been only seven such meetings since 2000, three of which were in the COVID-ed era of the All-Canadian Division last year. The other four Toronto Maple Leafs and Ottawa senators had a contentious issue at the turn of the century, all of which Leafs won before their current deficit… well, before anything else.
But the Flemish-Oilers haven’t happened in so long that it’s almost a new rivalry and within itself. No one under the age of 35 in both cities can remember the last time they played each other, except for the meaningless litany of regular-season games – and since then their biggest thrill has been introducing the Stanley Cup at the Confederacy: 2004 in Calgary, Tampa and Edmonton in 2006. In Carolina. How, then, can you resurrect a latent rivalry in a country that evokes its national animosities in the guise of relative decency? How can people living three hours away pretend that there is no similarity between Canadians living in the Pacific or Eastern time except a shared hatred for them? Are blue and orange and red and yellow really colliding?
Well, by Game 3, once both teams have achieved their minimum number of slashes, spears and sleeves. But it’s just Fells being Fells, Jack Cassian and Milan Lusic, these kinds of things. The series is actually one of Canada’s rare statements on league domination that was recently captured by the Sun Belt and, worse, the Colorado Avalanche, is universally regarded as the worst villain in Badassari’s recent history. It’s a series that belongs to the nation that gave us hockey, and since hockey can no longer be assigned to Leaf, a nation turns its lonely eyes to Alberta.
And that could be the takeaway here. Until flames and oilmen recreate the things they used to hate each other, this is going to be more reunion than the end of a three-decade long ceasefire. Both teams have a lot in common, and they’ve both been paralyzed since the late 80’s. They don’t even have the weird old-fashioned video technology and antiquarian arena lighting that makes their games look so different from American games. And I’m pretty sure that the almond trumpeters of each city who played the song in the stoppage went ahead, overwhelmed by the original national anthem of Albertan Hockey: a recording of a half-century old metal band.
In short, the issues that should fascinate in this series are: Gudrew and Connor McDavid, Matthew Takachuk and Leon Drysitol, Daryl Sutter’s self-absorbed face, and J. Woodcroft’s lack of proper expression, Lucic and Cassian, well matured. Jacob Markstrom vs. Antiluvian Mike Smith: The most exciting ongoing development will eventually teach these two fan bases how to hate each other again at Prairie. Some of these will only be a pro-form-fans-TV-shot-at-no-no-effort, but in the end, they were beating Granesky, Mark Messier, and Glenn Anderson, year after year, Lani MacDonald, Al McNeis, and Joel Auto.
Mid-finger-driven contempt. They want to get it better before the winner faces Colorado, because it is less likely to survive hatred and expectation than reality and decay.