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Ted Kulfan: Battle of Alberta sure to stoke passion for Canadian hockey fans

Ted Kulfan, The Detroit News on

Published in Hockey

DETROIT — Everywhere else around the NHL, especially in many passionate sports cities in the United States, this series isn't going to get much attention.

But in Canada — and obviously, especially, in the province of Alberta — this is going to be something else.

When the Edmonton Oilers and Calgary Flames renew the Battle of Alberta Wednesday in the Western Conference semifinals, it'll be the first time they'll face each other in the playoffs in 31 years.

"I've been here for nine years and never had even a sniff of a chance to play them in the playoffs," said Calgary forward Johnny Gaudreau, who had the series-clinching overtime goal in Game 7 against Dallas. "It's pretty special and it'll be a lot of fun. It's going to be a pretty cool series."

The cities are three hours apart, have legendary hockey histories, and generally have an attitude about each other regardless of hockey.

To have two good hockey teams battling in the playoffs this spring is an unexpected treat.

 

"The entire province is excited about it," Oilers coach Jay Woodcroft said. "Obviously, there's a rivalry between the two cities that goes back multiple years, and not just in the sport of hockey. Everyone's excited about that. What I see is two good hockey teams that are going to get the opportunity to compete to head to the third round of the playoffs."

Edmonton goalie Mike Smith began his career in Calgary and has seen the passion on both sides.

“The hype is real life; there are a lot of passionate fans in Alberta for the Flames and Oilers,” Smith said. "As players, we’re trying not to get consumed by that. There is a lot of extra noise, but there is a focus with this group that we have job to do and it didn’t really matter who we were going to play against."

Both teams had to go to Game 7 to win their first-round series, with Calgary needing overtime before Gaudreau's dramatic game-winner.

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