CALGARY – It’s not uncommon for Matthew Tkachuk to draw the ire of all 20 opponents on any given night.
Sucking in the opposition’s fan base is also routine.
However, the third-year Flames provocateur managed to take things to a whole new level when he also enraged several members of Edmonton’s media Saturday night who couldn’t control their fury.
Minutes after the Calgary Flames’ come-from-behind win, an Oilers media-type walked right through Bill Peters’ press conference in a noticeable huff.
Hearing Peters mention how proud he was the “boys stuck together,” the infuriated broadcaster muttered loudly without breaking stride, “your guy turtled.”
The childish display prompted a Calgary scribe to tell him to grow up.
More on turtle tales later.
First, an examination of a man who may be the best thing to happen to the Battle of Alberta since blood.
Funny thing is, Tkachuk’s outing in the deliciously heated provincial rivalry wasn’t inordinately pesky in the Flames’ come-from-behind win.
However, given the fact one of his targets throughout the night was Connor McDavid, ol’ No. 19 did well to draw endless crowds and criticism from Edmonton authors online.
In the process, he single-handedly resurrected a provincial war that had been no bigger than a mild disagreement for years.
He even managed to stir emotion from the typically placid Leon Draisaitl, who slew-footed Tkachuk two minutes into a game that featured more emotion, hitting and bad blood than the Flames have seen or exhibited all year.
Draisaitl, who could easily have been tossed for the play, was fortunate to get nothing more than an interference call. You can bet the less-than-sympathetic victim played a role in the soft call.
Tkachuk was fortunate he didn’t get nailed for diving, as his landing, tuck, roll and stick toss will have Hollywood stunt doubles studying his technique for years.
It was so dramatic in fact, he was summoned by the NHL’s concussion spotter for a ten-minute looksee.
Shortly after his return to the ice, Tkachuk was involved in a 10-man scrum that started after he attempted to hit Draisaitl and Mikael Backlund was subsequently tangled on the ice with McDavid.
Tkachuk jumped on the heap to try poking at McDavid, making him the number one target the rest of the night.
Nobody touches McDavid.
To that end, Oilers head coach Todd McLellan put Milan Lucic on McDavid’s line and elevated Zack Kassian to play alongside Ryan Nugent-Hopkins.
For the first time in over a year against a beefed-up Oilers team, the Flames were finally pushing back.
Sam Bennett’s stock soared ever higher when he levelled tough-as-nails Darnell Nurse and later fought the big defenceman to a spirited draw.
Then came The Turtle, as our friend saw it.
Tired of Tkachuk’s general disregard for common courtesy, Kassian lined up alongside the Flames spit-disturber with the sole intent of fighting.
The way everyone north of Red Deer saw it, Tkachuk should have had to answer for his style of play.
Those south of there so no upside in the Flames leading scorer fighting one of the last goons clinging to the NHL.
After all, Tkachuk didn’t hammer anyone, like Lucic later did to Mark Giordano or Drake Caggiula did to Johnny Gaudreau.
Either way, to no one in Calgary’s surprise, Tkachuk kept watching the play as Kassian grabbed ahold of him, knocked his helmet off and shook him around.
Frustrated, Kassian then shed his mitts and threw three heavy lefts at Tkachuk’s face.
It was eerily similar to the move Max Domi made in the pre-season when he unsuccessfully tried to engage with Aaron Ekblad and opted to simply sucker punch the Florida defenceman who had no interest in fighting.
For that, Domi was suspended the balance of the pre-season, which amounted to five games.
The only differences Saturday were that Tkachuk managed to protect his face a split second before the first punch landed, he wasn’t injured in the exchange and, once again, the league considers the agitating source.
Kassian was handed the rare triple-roughing call, a 10-minute misconduct and might have faced supplemental discipline for the attack if not for the above three factors.
Tkachuk pulled a Kenny Linseman/Esa Tikkanen and refused to fight – turtling as it were, clutching his head with his hands.
Edmontonians call it chicken.
Calgarians call it smart. Prudent.
They’ll never agree on this one.
Down 1-0 at the time, the Flames didn’t score on the power play. In fact, McDavid scored a power-play goal of his own early in the second period to put the Oil up 2-0.
However, it’s clear now Tkachuk out-smarted the Oilers.
Their focus – as evidenced by McLellan’s line alterations – revolved around the early physicality and emotion.
By the time the third period came around, it was all about hockey, which the Flames wound up schooling the visitors in. The Oilers failed to make that adjustment.
The 20-year-old, who has fought five times in the NHL, including bouts with Ryan Kesler and Brayden McNabb, has a hockey IQ superior enough to know he’s far more valuable on the ice than he is in a five-minute trade-off with a fourth-line knuckle-chucker.
Much safer that way too.
“Probably there was a couple opportunities that probably presented themselves yesterday that probably wouldn’t have been smart of me to take part in – I know one instance in particular,” Tkachuk told reporters Sunday, in the afterglow of a 4-2 win that saw the Flames erase a 2-1 third-period deficit.
“They tried to bait me into some things but you’ve got to be smart with that stuff. I don’t think the tradeoff at that point of the game would have been smart for me to sit another 5 minutes. I had already sat ten minutes of the period. I wanted to get myself back in the game and stay away from that stuff.”
All of it served to extend Tkachuk’s NHL lead in drawing penalties – a title he’s held since he joined the loop three years back. On Saturday, he drew 28 minutes in Oilers infractions, including two Kassian misconducts.
He helped turn Saturday’s tilt into one of the most spirited and entertaining games seen here in years.
It was a kick in the pants for the rivalry and a rare gem in an increasingly sanitized league devoid of emotion nine nights out of ten.
This one involved hatred again.
At some point, logic dictates, Tkachuk will have to fight someone in orange and blue. We’ll see.
Smart money say suggests the Saturday, Dec. 9 re-match in Edmonton will also include Anthony Peluso and/or Dalton Prout for the Flames.
The gift we hope keeps on giving, no matter which part of the province you reside.