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Fighting down, intensity remains in Battle of Alberta

by Aaron Vickers / Calgary Flames

I remember back in the day when McSorley and Jim Peplinski and Mess and all those guys used to fight all the time. I think it was pretty gritty back then, for sure. - Ryan Smyth

EDMONTON, AB -- There's no doubting one of hockey's fiercest rivalries.

The mutual distaste shared between the Edmonton Oilers and Calgary Flames spans decades, with countless hundreds going toe-to-toe since the 1980's.

But has the Battle of Alberta gone soft?

Long gone are the days of Marty McSorely dusting the mitts off with Tim Hunter or Jim Peplinski squaring off with any willing combatant in the vicinity and understandably so.

For a rivalry the magnitude of Calgary and Edmonton to span 11 games and two and a half seasons is shocking to say the least.

It isn't your rock 'em, sock 'em, beat 'em in the alley duel anymore.

"It's different," Cory Sarich said. "It's just a different makeup of teams though right. There used to be more guys throwing body checks and it used to be a grittier game. It's a little bit more of a speed game now on the ice."

The last time a member of both teams threw down in fisticuffs was on October 26th, 2010. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins was 17-years-old. Playing for the Red Deer Rebels. Eight months before the Oilers selected him first overall in the NHL Entry Draft.

"It doesn't mean that it's not heated," Nugent-Hopkins said. "It is heated every game and it's really physical and intense. I guess it just hasn't worked out like that yet."

The last fight came in the second period of a 5-4 overtime victory for the Flames between Tim Jackman and Jason Strudwick. Jackman remains with Calgary. Strudwick retired last May.

Also on the fight card? Mark Giordano versus Colin Frasier and Olli Jokinen against Sam Gagner.

Yes, Gagner.

"Oh yeah?" middleweight Mike Brown questioned with a raised eyebrow. "That's a surprise but when you're playing hard and you want the game, sometimes it happens."

Sometimes, but not often lately between the two clubs. With the on-ice focus from both organizations switching more to skill and speed, the rough stuff has taken a backseat.

"Look at both lineups, there's a lot of speed throughout both," Sarich said. "It definitely has a different feel then when I first got here about six years ago."

Though on opposite sides of the rivalry, Ryan Smyth agreed with Sarich.

"I remember back in the day when McSorley and Jim Peplinski and Mess and all those guys used to fight all the time," he said. "I think it was pretty gritty back then, for sure. I think there's more of a finesse game now as far as scoring and keeping disciplined, for sure."

It comes with the evolution of the game.

Through the 1980's, the average number of fights per game rose above 1.0. The 2012-13 season currently sits at 0.52.

But just because the two teams aren't scrapping it out like they used to doesn't mean the displeasure both clubs have for each other isn't there.

"These games are crucial and it's important you stay disciplined," Smyth said. "The intensity is going to be there. The physical battle is going to be there. It hasn't dropped off in that regard."

Nor has the hostility between the Oilers and Flames.

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