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37 FOR 37: TORN APART

For many, the Risebrough-McSorley scrap in 1986 represents the fabled Battle of Alberta at its apex

by GEORGE JOHNSON @GJohnsonFlames / CalgaryFlames.com

A whack from Oiler enforcer Marty McSorley on goaltender Mike Vernon got the party started.

Doug Risebrough was actually seated on the bench that night in 1986 at the Saddledome.

"I was expecting somebody to do something,'' the feisty centreman is recalling. "Nobody did. 

"Now the change is happening and I'm thinking 'Well, if I'm expecting somebody on the ice to do something, guess who's on the ice now? Me.'

"So over I go."

What happened next lives on in Flames' annals and for many represents the fabled Battle of Alberta at its apex.

"Knowing (McSorley's) reputation,'' says Risebrough, "I'm figuring I better get the first one in 'cause it might be the last one.

"Anyway, I get the first one in and then it's pushing, shoving, throwing punches. He was the first guy to figure out that at the time we didn't have to tie down the jersey - now it's a rule. 

"So he'd literally kinda put his head down, you'd end up with his sweater, you had nothing to hold onto and then he could really wallop you.

"But I figured I did OK in the fight."

The scuffle over, an incensed Risebrough grabbed the discarded No. 33 in white, hauled it into the penalty box and began to shred it with his skates.

"I throw it on the floor, and start cutting it up. And I'm thinking 'Gee, I didn't do a very good job, I don't see any marks.' Well, when I held it up, the light comes through it and I'm thinking 'Holy s--!'

"Well, I give it to the guy in the box, he tosses it to (McSorley) and he goes ballistic."

Following the game, in high dudgeon, Oiler coach/GM Glen Sather demanded reparation for the tattered item in the form of $225.

"The next morning,'' says Risebrough, "I call Glen - we're friends - to apologize: 'I don't know what happened. I had a brain cramp.' And he starts to laugh.

"The night before he'd been ranting and raving, saying what a disgrace this was, destroying a $2,000 jersey. All that. So he's gone from a vicious bulldog to a guy in hysterics, saying: 'That was wonderful! Unbelievable!'"

Hours after the conciliatory call, as practice was about to begin, Flames' GM Cliff Fletcher called the players off the ice for a meeting.

"Cliff never did that,'' laughs Risebrough. "So everybody's wondering what's up. We get in the room and he's pacing. Dead silence.

"He paces a while longer and then he says: 'That will never happen, ever again, as long as I'm the manager of the Calgary Flames.' And I'm thinking: 'Oh, crap. I'm in trouble now.'

"And then he says: 'When I see a guy get the (bleep) kicked him out of him like that in a fight and nobody steps in …'

"So I turn to Mike Eaves and say: "Was it that bad?'"

Fast forward 19 years, to the ceremony honouring Sather in Edmonton in the fall of 2015. Risebrough was included at the head table. Naturally, host Ron MacLean brought up the sweater incident.

"He wants my version. I tell the whole story and I said I thought I did alright in the fight. Then Ron says: 'We actually have the fight on tape.'

"That was the first time I actually got to see the fight since it happened. And Marty's in the audience. 

"All of a sudden, watching, I realize I really did take a (bleep)-kicking. That's the way I was, though, competing at any level I could.

"I didn't get killed. I didn't lose a friend in Glen, who actually thought it was great. And Cliff was proud of me.

"So the story wound up having a happy ending."

For the full listing of our 37 For 37 moments and links to past stories, check out: https://www.nhl.com/flames/fans/37-for-37

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