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Giordano, along with newcomers Hamonic and Smith, ready for another war with the Oilers

by GEORGE JOHNSON @GJohnsonFlames /

This, he's needlessly reminded, is our version of Ali-Frazier. Coke-Pepsi. Bird-Magic.

Not game.

The game.

People around this town would rather lord over the Edmonton Oilers than just about do practically anything.

Breathe, probably.

"Yeah,'' replied Mike Smith, with a wolfish can't-wait smile. "So I've heard."

Everything he's heard and more, probably.

When the puck drops Wednesday night in the season-opener in Edmonton (8 p.m., TV: Sportsnet, Radio: Sportsnet 960 The FAN), all eyes will be on Rogers Place.

For this one night only, nothing else remotely matters.

Flames' skipper Mark Giordano is, of course, an old hand at manning the front lines in this ongoing provincial struggle for one-upmanship.

When No. 5 speaks, people tend to listen. And his first piece of advice for Wednesday's curtain-raiser was to store the track spikes at home in the far reaches of the closet.

"They have a lot of speed, a lot of talent over there, obviously," Giordano cautioned. "I think we want to play more direct, north-south, try and get into a grind.

"If you think you're going to go in there, trade chances and be successful …" Giordano pauses with a soft shake of the head. "Well, that's not the way to beat that team.

"It's big game for us, because of who we're playing. It's another start to a season. But, more importantly, a division game against one of our rivals.

"It's going to be a great atmosphere."

Two of the new-boys conscripted to join the Battle - Smith and defenceman Travis Hamonic - are destined to be central figures in how it plays out over the coming months.

Hamonic, of course, understands, the particular dynamics of a proximity feud, having found himself deep in the trenches of the famous Islanders-Rangers squabbles over the past five seasons.

"A good battle," he recalls. "Fun. Good for the league, those things. You're close, fan bases are passionate, everyone's pretty into it. It's … everything.

"And in the case this year, it's the first game of the season, so there's extra (excitement).

"They're always eventful games, whether they're cross-town or cross-province, super-close in proximity and both teams are doing well, it's always an eventful night.

"It's a team we're going to see a lot of this year, a team in our division. Obviously there's a lot of build-up - it's the Battle of Alberta, something that's gone on for years and will continue.

"It's neat to be a part of it and start the season off with a bang."

Cloistered out in the Scottsdale desert, Smith, too, felt added tension of games imbued with ill will, if not quite in the same historic manner as Isles-Rangers.

"For me, over my time in Arizona, I'd say us and L.A. With the playoff series we had (a five-game set-to vs. the Kings in the '92 semifinals), it kinda got amped up.

"We always had ugly games against them.

"I like an ugly game.

"They are a little bit more exciting than a game that you only play a team once or twice a year. When you're seeing a team four, five or six times, it adds to the competitive spirit.

"Things happen throughout games. Whether it's a bad hit, a fight. Things in games that people remember, always look forward to, and you guys always remind us of.

"That adds to the whole rivalry part of it."

The new faces joining the Battle are expected to only add to the merriment.

"Games like this you really get up for," said Smith. "Games like this, you really want to play.

"I haven't been a part of this rivalry yet, but everybody knows all about the history and everything.

"Can't wait.

"I'd have to say I'm pretty excited about being a part of it now."


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