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Youth rekindling 'Battle of Alberta' rivalry

Flames and Oilers on collision course for rivalry revival

by Aaron Vickers @AAVickers / CalgaryFlames.com

CALGARY, AB -- Gretzky and Kurri and Messier and Coffey, draped in blue and orange. Nieuwendyk and Fleury and

Roberts and MacInnis, racing in red and yellow.

Hunter versus Semenko.

McSorley versus Peplinski.

The glory days.

The height of the Battle of Alberta.

When Lord Stanley's Cup resided in the province for six of seven straight seasons.

When the buzz was at its loudest.

Before it softened.

Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan and Sam Bennett and Matthew Tkachuk representing the Calgary Flames.

Connor McDavid and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Leon Draisaitl and Jesse Puljujarvi defending the Edmonton Oilers.

The rivalry is building back. The young guns will attest.


"It could for sure," Monahan said. "There's a lot of skill and there's a lot of skilled guys at a young age that want to make a difference. That's what makes teams grow. You play them so many times, and there's that history behind these two teams. I think that's going to pick up, for sure.

"I think this is going to be a pretty long time where these teams are going to be good, and battling against each other for a while."

Monahan would know. He's been a part of the battle for three seasons.

Oilers defenceman Darnell Nurse can attest, too. At 21 and entering his second season in Edmonton, Nurse is among the group expected to help push the neighbors to the north.

One of the ones, from both sides, tasked with returning the rivalry to what it once was. "You look at the rosters, there's a lot of young players on each team that are going to play against each other for a long time," Nurse said. "It's definitely going to be a rivalry that picks up steam and is going to be a great battle for a lot of years to come.

"You play the team so much. They're in the same division, and we play each other so often over the course of a year. You're going to build up a dislike for each other. Towards the end of the year (last season) it was starting to get there. "As the years go on and each team gets better, it's going to be a rivalry that really takes shape."

Optimism abounds for all in Alberta. Following lengthy slumbers from both squads. The Oilers have failed to qualify for the Stanley Cup Playoffs in 10 straight seasons. The Flames have accomplished the task once in the past seven years. But both are on the rise. A sharp incline, too.

"The one thing you want for the Battle of Alberta to get back to where it was is you need the teams to get back into the playoffs," Calgary captain Mark Giordano said. "I think both teams are optimistic with their young players. "It'll be exciting." The lore isn't lost on the next wave. 

"We know the history of the Battle of Alberta," Bennett, 20, said. "As soon as you put on the Flaming C, you're naturally going to despise the Oilers. I think that's just part of the territory.

"Both teams seem to be trending in the right direction with the young guys. You definitely look through the lineups. It's a lot of young guys…guys I've played against before. "I think definitely we're anticipating playing these guys for a long time."

In meaningful games. 

Video: REWIND | Steve Smith scores on own net

Despite taking a step back last season, the Flames are poised to return to the form that saw them qualify for, and advance to the second round of, the playoffs in 2015.

The Oilers, undoubtedly, are happy with the potential that oozes from their young core, too, as they seek their first playoff skates since competing in the Cup final in 2006. It'll put Edmonton and Calgary on a collision course, should both thrive the way optimism bounds in both cities.

"It's a rivalry that a lot of people love but I think it's died a little in the past because of the position of the teams," Oilers forward Jordan Eberle suggested. "They're in a situation where they're getting better as a team. We're definitely better as a team.

"You can see it rekindling a little bit."

Reigniting.

"I can feel it now," Flames coach Glen Gulutzan said. "I'm reminded, too, by people of how big it is. I lived it a little bit as a young guy and watching it happen. It hasn't been as powerful as it has been in the past, but I can feel that it's heating up now. That's a great thing for the province. It's a great thing for our hockey club to get that thing going. It brings juice.

"I think as the talent levels of both teams start to mature and they start to make strides as organizations, you're kind of looking at the old days a little bit, sometimes. That would be nice. "I think it'd be great."

The responsibility is carried on the youth. In McDavid, the captain, and Monahan, the alternate. In Gaudreau's exploits and Draisaitl's development. "With the high draft picks and both teams having a really good group of young players coming up as stars in this league, it definitely makes it more intriguing," Flames veteran Matt Stajan said. "Obviously as the teams get better and we're battling for playoffs and both teams are in that battle, it's going to continue to be more of a battle. That just goes without saying.

"When we're out there it's a battle. You hear all about it growing up. For the older guys, we watched the 80's and early 90's where there were some really good battles between two of the best teams. There's a lot of history there. You have to hate them. You have to have the mindset you want it more than them. You can't give them anything. It'll be exciting to get going.

"I think with the young guys and both teams on the way up, it's definitely more intriguing. You're going to see a lot of battles. At the end of the day, they're a team we've got to beat to try to get to the playoffs, and they're thinking the same thing. We're in the same division.

"These are big games."

For the standings.

For the rivalry.

To turn it back to Gretzky and Messier and Nieuwendyk and Fleury.

With Nugent-Hopkins and Puljujarvi and Bennett and Tkachuk.

In a new, old battle.

For the right to be Alberta's best.

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