Cam Talbot saw it as a bucket list opportunity, Albertans saw it as the ultimate resurrection of the game’s greatest rivalry, and the hockey world marveled in its uniqueness.
However you saw Talbot’s fight with Mike Smith a year ago — the only all-goalie battle in the blood-stained history of the Battle of Alberta — there’s a good chance you’ll be tuning in Saturday to see what’s next.
Talbot certainly will.
“I’ll definitely be keeping an eye on it,” said the former Flame and Oiler from his new home in Minnesota, where he tends twine for a Wild club that had its Saturday afternoon game postponed due the team’s COVID-19 outbreak.
“I’ve got a lot of history with both teams, so it will be fun to watch. I’m sure the game will be on at my house.”
He’s also pretty sure about something else: it will be worth it.
“When you play a team ten times and you have the history boiling over from last year, I can’t see it not taking that turn again,” said Talbot, who the Flames replaced with Jacob Markstrom in the off-season.
“I don’t know if there will be goalie fights and all that stuff, but with the intensity, if one little thing goes wrong it’s just going to stir up again pretty quickly. I don’t think it’s going to take too much to get that going again.”
Like many, he wonders if the absence of 18,000 bloodthirsty fans at the Saddledome will reduce the odds further mayhem will ensue, as it did almost exactly a year ago when they last met.
It was then, three nights after Matthew Tkachuk and Zack Kassian fought in Edmonton (with Sean Monahan versus Ryan Nugent-Hopkins as the most bizarre of undercards), Talbot found himself skating out to centre ice to make history with the 6-foot-5, 220-pound Oilers netminder.
Upset over a late jab from Sam Gagner as the officials blew the play dead, Talbot jumped up to shove the Oilers forward a few times before popping him in the bean with his blocker. On in relief of David Rittich and already frustrated late in the second period of a game his team was losing 6-3, Talbot subsequently found himself tangling with Alex Chiasson in the corner before being directed to centre ice by Darnell Nurse.
It was there Smith, the Flames netminder a year earlier, awaited.
“It was one of the things on my bucket list,” Talbot said of the all-goalie grappling he knew wasn’t going to go well as he approached his towering counterpart.
“If I didn’t have one on my resume before my last game I was going to skate out and just fight somebody at some point. That’s one thing I can cross off, and it’s kind of cool that it came in a game like that. It’s going to follow me for a while.”
To his point, Talbot’s phone blew up on the fight’s anniversary Monday, with an endless series of messages and social media tags
“Oh, I was well aware this was coming up – it’s pretty well-publicized,” he chuckled.
“It’s not hard to follow. Most of my teammates are aware of it.”
Any chance his fresh-faced tandem-mate, Kaapo Kahkonen, has asked him for fighting tips?
“No, if he saw the fight he should be asking Smitty for the fighting tips,” laughed Talbot, who absorbed three or four solid rights from Smith and subsequently received only 3.7 per cent of the votes on hockeyfights.com as the victor.
As frustrated as the Flames were at that point in the game, the Oilers saw it as a great way to exact payback for a post-shootout stick flip celebration by Rittich in their previous meeting.
As big a shame as it was they didn’t get a chance to renew hostilities on the final night of the regular season, the two were also seemingly destined for a collision course in the playoffs before the season and playoff format were altered by COVID-19.
So here we are, for the first of 10 tilts between rivals who find themselves near the bottom of the North Division early on.
Losers of consecutive games, the Flames will certainly enter Saturday in a surly mood. Whether their lineup will include feisty forward Sam Bennett remains to be seen, given his recent trade request.
Speaking for the first time Friday, he said he was surprised to be a healthy scratch in Thursday’s loss to Winnipeg and was hoping to be back in the lineup against the Oilers.
You’ll have to tune in to find out how that, and so many other storylines, unfold.
“Last year was just so good for hockey and for the rivalry,” said Talbot, proud to have earned one of the 521 fighting majors in the history of the interprovincial punch-up.
“It’s more heightened in Canada, but I think even more people in the States will pay more attention to it now, too. I can’t wait.”
He’s not alone.