Oilers bond in old-school, fight-filled victory over Flames

The Oilers routed the Flames 8-3 in a highly anticipated Battle of Alberta that more than lived up to the hype.

CALGARY — My name is Mark, and I’m a dinosaur. And we’re betting you are too.

If you enjoyed Saturday’s late game on Hockey Night in Canada, does that mean you’re some remnant from hockey’s evil past? When concussions were dealt with the way Mark Messier once described: “They said I can come back as soon as I stop putting the milk away in the stove.”

What we saw on Hockey Night on Feb. 1, 2020, was what we used to see here at the Saddledome, or up at the Northlands Coliseum, when the Edmonton Oilers and the Calgary Flames were representing the Western Conference in eight consecutive Stanley Cup Finals from 1983-90.

Are we still allowed to say it was fun? Because the players loved it — especially the Oilers players, after an 8-3 win at Calgary — and they’re the ones taking the punches.

“There was a good feeling in here after this game, I’ll just put it that way. There was a good feeling.” said Mike Smith, fresh off the NHL’s first goalie fight since 2013. “The energy was probably unlike we’ve seen this year from our group.”

We pooh-pooh fighting in 2020, and that’s OK. We should.

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When it happens organically, however, like it did Saturday in a 102-penalty minute affair, the internet blows up. They say nobody leaves the building when the fights start? No one turns the channel either.

Not just because of the violence, but because it’s like some weird hockey portal back to the days when the Battle of Alberta — and of Quebec, and of Pennsylvania — were true battles. With real hatred.

Hockey players, they still get it. And even though they’re on board with a game that has pretty much left fisticuffs behind, they’re all-in when they get that chance to play the game the way their fathers did.

“Those are the types of games that really bring your group together,” said Sam Gagner, son of former NHLer Dave Gagner, who duked it out with Mark Giordano in an unpenalized fracas.

“Everyone stayed in the fight. Everyone was sticking up for each other. We played a great game. I think that’s the main thing. Those are the types of games that really bring a group together and we just have to keep working from here.”

When’s the last time you watched a game where they sent both teams to their dressing rooms with 24 seconds left in a period because the referees had to sort through 50 minutes of penalties?

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When you saw a goalie standing at centre ice, getting the attention of his opposite number to give us the unicorn of the new NHL: A goalie fight.

“Once I saw that, I was fired up for sure,” said Ethan Bear, who paused his scrap with Matt Tkachuk when the goalies started going at it.

These Oilers fought together, and Sunday they’ll watch the Super Bowl and have a few beers together. For a weekend, a trip back in time to the way hockey once was.

“We’re a tight group as is,” Gagner said.

“But these are the types of games that really just keep building it. You want to know who is in the fight with you and everybody stepped up to the plate tonight. It’s a big win for us. We have to keep pushing from here.”

Edmonton is 8-1-2 in its last 11 games, and a completely different team offensively since the day Kailer Yamamoto arrived, allowing Leon Draisaitl and Connor McDavid to produce on separate lines.

On Saturday, Draisaitl extended his lead atop the NHL scoring race with four helpers, while McDavid scored twice. The Flames’ two top offensive players, Sean Monahan and Johnny Gaudreau had a point between them, with Gaudreau tip-toeing on the perimeter of a game that tells you plenty about the players within.

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Edmonton chased David Rittich from the net, and it turns out that the Oilers did notice when the Flames goalie flipped his stick at the end of the shootout on Wednesday in Edmonton. As Rittich skated past the Oilers bench after being pulled on Saturday, he heard it from the Oilers en masse.

“It’s just disrespectful,” Draisaitl said of the stick flip. “We hit two posts (in the shootout) and he’s celebrating like … they just won the Stanley Cup. I get it. They’re excited. Good for them. They won the game in the shootout. But show some respect, I think. That’s my opinion.”

Some people will hate the fact that this game is getting the attention it will receive. But I can tell you this: The Oilers became a better, closer group of athletes Saturday night.

It sounds like a cliche, but it’s real.

“That can only make our group stronger in here and better as a team,” Gagner said. “There are things you can get out of games. We stuck together. We got a big win against a good hockey team and kept moving up in the standings.

“There’s a lot we can take from this tonight.”


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