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Highlights from the Battle of Alberta in the '80s

The rivalry between the NHL teams in Calgary and Edmonton continues in the 2022 playoffs and it goes back a long way: during a skirmish in 1986, the Flames vanquished the mighty Wayne Gretzky-era Oilers in seven games.

The Flames and Oilers last faced off in the NHL playoffs in 1991

Edmonton Oilers centre Wayne Gretzky looks concerned at the team’s afternoon practice, April 23, 1986, after being beaten by the Calgary Flames the night before. (Dave Buston/Canadian Press)

A hockey battle is brewing in Alberta.

The Calgary Flames and the Edmonton Oilers — the National Hockey League teams from the province's two biggest cities — will go head-to-head in the NHL playoffs for the first time since 1991

But the rivalry was strong years before that, as a look through the CBC archives shows.

The two teams have met in the playoffs five times, and Edmonton has won four of those battles. Here are two clips from the series Calgary won in 1986 and a 1984 exploration of the rivalry.

Beyond hockey

The roots of the Alberta hockey rivalry

38 years ago
Duration 1:47
Each city has its bragging rights, but in 1984, hockey brings out the competitive spirit in Calgary and Edmonton more than anything else.

The two teams were in the thick of a second-round showdown in the playoffs in 1984 when reporter Paul Workman, who was based in Edmonton, attempted to explain the rivalry on CBC's The National.

Both cities claimed to be "the oil capital of Canada," Workman said. And each claimed to have the world's biggest something — Calgary with its stampede and Edmonton with its shopping mall. Plus, they could both brag about their roles on the international sporting stage: Edmonton as host of the Commonwealth Games in 1978 and Calgary with the upcoming 1988 Olympics.

"So what do you expect when the two cities meet over a hockey game?" said Workman. Sportswriters said the rivalry had reached the point where it was no longer just "friendly competition," he added.

"I don't believe it's fun," said Steve Simmons of the Calgary Herald. "I think the people actually don't like each other." 

The Oilers beat the Flames in the series and went on to become the Stanley Cup champions. 

The rivalry continues in 1986 

Road trip to opposition turf

36 years ago
Duration 1:27
A busload of Calgary Flames fans heads to Edmonton to watch their team in a playoff game against their provincial rivals in 1986.

Two years later, Edmonton was looking to win the Stanley Cup for the third year in a row, having also won it in 1985. In the second round of the playoffs, the two Alberta teams faced off again.

Game 5 in the best-of-seven series took place on April 26, 1986, with the two squads tied at two games each. CBC reporter Kas Roussy was there as an enthusiastic ensemble of 47 Flames fans boarded a chartered bus that would take them north to that night's match in Edmonton. 

"We won't have the influence or the force that we had last weekend," a man in a Flames jersey told Roussy. "We'll have a good time and everyone has to yell five times louder."   

Roussy noted that their tickets had been sold in groups of six and the seats were "scattered" throughout the Northlands Coliseum, making it impossible to create a red Flames cheering section in the sea of blue.

"Flames supporters weren't going to let the seating arrangement bother them," she said.

Apparently, the Flames players were unfazed too. The team won that night, taking a 3-2 lead in the series. 

'Victory was sweet'

A long-awaited win

36 years ago
Duration 1:27
Calgary fans are fired up over their team's playoff series victory over Edmonton in 1986.

In the end, it came down to Game 7. Local CBC reporter Deborah Lamb visited a Calgary pub, partly owned by former Flames defenceman Paul Reinhart, to cover the event. 

"Here in Calgary, victory was sweet — so sweet," she said. "The Flames: feisty underdogs in the Smythe Division championship." 

Calgarians had gathered at the bar since the afternoon to watch and cheer what turned out to be a "hard-fought nail-biter." 

Lamb also caught up with the family of star goalie Mike Vernon, who were watching in a more subdued living room as Vernon fought off a two-man advantage in the dying seconds of the game. 

The win was celebrated with honks and cheers as fans poured into the streets, and Lamb said police were gearing up for a "wild and sleepless night."

The Flames would win the third round of the playoffs against the St. Louis Blues, but ultimately fell to the Montreal Canadiens in the final.

Calgary Flames fans who got tickets to a playoff game in Edmonton were unable to sit together in groups of more than six. (Calgary News/CBC Archives)

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