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Five Signs the Battle of Alberta is Trending Up

Overtime of Game 5 between the Calgary Flames and the Edmonton Oilers and the best hockey player in the world had the fate of the playoff series on his stick.

Connor McDavid did what he does best in that moment and scored a series-sealing goal that ended another chapter in the long-standing Battle of Alberta between the two National Hockey League (NHL) clubs. The 2022 edition went to the Oilers and when the Flames missed the postseason the following year, it appeared as though the sporting rivalry between Alberta’s two largest cities would slump back to a state of dormancy.

The athletic pulse remains, however, and the signs of life are getting stronger. So put that defibrillator away, because here are five indications that the Battle of Alberta – specifically between Calgary and Edmonton’s sports teams – is alive and well.

  1. Flames and Oilers Meet in Heritage Classic

Whatever letdown there was in the NHL version of the Battle of Alberta last season, there is promise for a renewed clash of hockey superpowers entering the 2023-24 campaign. While the Oilers seek a stronger push for the Stanley Cup and the Flames look to return to the playoffs, the two teams will have to prove they’re postseason worthy during the regular season. Along the way, they’ll face each other twice in the preseason and another four times during the regular season. One of those contests will feature a historic meeting in Edmonton on Oct. 29th at Commonwealth Stadium. The 2023 Tim Hortons Heritage Classic will mark the 20th anniversary of the outdoor NHL event and it will be the first time that the Flames and Oilers have taken their feud to the ice outside.

2. CFL Playoff Push

The Edmonton Elks have won the Grey Cup 14 times but they’ve made headlines for all the wrong reasons during recent Canadian Football League (CFL) seasons. The Elks set a major-league sporting record for most consecutive home losses when they dropped 22 consecutive games at Commonwealth Stadium. That streak was snapped in August and an entertaining Labour Day Classic against the Calgary Stampeders followed, with the Stamps scoring three touchdowns in the fourth-quarter to pull out a 35-31 comeback win over their northern rivals. When the gridiron action shifted from McMahon Stadium to Edmonton on Sept. 9th, a 42-yard field goal with time expiring gave the Elks a 25-23 victory over Calgary. While the Stamps and Elks are at the bottom of the West Division standings during the homestretch of the 2023 season, the squads are locked in a tight race for the playoffs. The 4-10 Elks are trying to secure a postseason berth for the first time since 2019, while the 4-9 Stampeders are hoping to extend their 17-season playoff streak by at least one more year. The two teams won’t face each other again during the regular season, but there will be plenty of scoreboard watching by fans of both Alberta teams over the next few weeks.

3. Board Battles

The hardwood isn’t traditionally thought of as a home for the Battle of Alberta, but the introduction of the Canadian Elite Basketball League (CEBL) to Calgary this year changed things. In their inaugural campaign, the Calgary Surge got the best of the Edmonton Stingers in three out of four regular-season meetings before facing them again in the western conference semi-final at WinSport Centre. A 21-point performance by Stef Smith on Aug. 6th helped the Surge defeat the Stingers by an 84-68 score and punch their ticket to Championship Weekend in Vancouver. The Surge ultimately lost 82-70 to the Scarborough Shooting Stars in the championship final, but the basketball rivalry between Calgary and Edmonton has been established heading into the 2024 CEBL season. The Surge also proved a big hit with hoops fans, as they drew capacity crowds to WinSport Centre throughout the year.

4. Puck Programs

Hockey fans tend to focus on the NHL confrontations between the Flames and Oilers, but there is plenty of heated action between Calgary and Edmonton area teams at other levels. In the Western Hockey League (WHL), the Calgary Hitmen and Edmonton Oil Kings always compete hard against each other. They’ll renew hostilities with a home-and-home series on Nov. 10th at Scotiabank Saddledome and Nov. 11th at Rogers Place in Edmonton. The Alberta Junior Hockey League (AJHL) also offers intense action between the Calgary Canucks – as well as other Calgary-area teams – and their counterparts in the Edmonton area, including the Sherwood Park Crusaders and Spruce Grove Saints. At the post-secondary level, the University of Alberta Golden Bears and Pandas boast strong hockey programs out of Edmonton on an annual basis. The Golden Bears won silver at the men’s national championships for a third straight year in 2023, while the Pandas were U Sports champs in 2017. The University of Calgary Dinos men’s hockey team, meanwhile, claimed their first Canada West conference championship since 1996 with a series win over the Golden Bears in March. Calgary’s Mount Royal University (MRU) made history with their first U Sports women’s hockey championship when the Cougars upset the Concordia Stingers in overtime at the 2023 tournament in Montreal.

5. School of Hard Knocks

Beyond the hockey world, the athletic programs at post-secondary schools in both Calgary and Edmonton bring out the best of both cities when it comes to sports. Whether it’s basketball, volleyball, soccer, football, rugby, wrestling, swimming, track and field or other team or individual pursuits, athletes from colleges and universities are going head-to-head and setting the bar for each other every year. The rivalries can be intense and the competition at this level is not to be ignored. Many of these sports events set the stage for professional careers, while others provide a forum for excellent back-and-forth entertainment.

The signs are all around us. The Battle of Alberta is alive and well and trending in the right direction for sports fans across the province!