It may be irrelevant to a hockey fan in the Greater Toronto area, or to a puckster living in Raleigh, N.C., but to a Western Canadian, the Battle of Alberta is real.
This season in the National Hockey League appears to be no different, as Calgary Flames and Edmonton Oilers are once again in the hunt in the Pacific Division, with fans dreaming of another post-season playoff battle.
To date, the red-hot Flames are winning the leadup to the battle, a few points ahead of the once-struggling but now back-to-normal Oilers. Edmonton coach Dave Tippett was fired in mid-February after a stretch of poor hockey capped by back-to-back home-ice losses to Vegas and Chicago in which they were outscored 8-1. New coach Jay Woodcroft produced immediate positive results, going 5-0 to start his stint with the Oilers, outscoring their opponents 22-8. Whether the new coach will carry on that success through the rest of the season, or suffer the Bruce Boudreau effect (start fast, then level off) remains to be seen.
The Flames, meanwhile, have been surprisingly good most of the season. Superior goaltending from Jacob Markstrom has been a huge key, with the former Canuck who signed last year as a free agent with Calgary already posting eight shutouts, by far the best total in the league. As a team, the Flames’ winning percentage and goals for-and-against differential are tops in the Pacific Division. Then, to add to that quality, general manager Brad Treliving went out and acquired top-six forward Tyler Toffoli from Montreal for the equivalent of two rolls of tape and a Jann Arden CD.
Toffoli, the long-time L.A. King who has since played for the Canucks and Montreal, is a five-time 20-plus goal man who will add a jolt of offence to a team that’s already in the upper half of scoring in the league, thanks to the play of Johnny Gaudreau, Matthew Tkachuk, Andrew Mangiapane and Elias Lindholm.
While the Flames get set to roll with Toffoli et al, their neighbours to the North are trying to figure out why they aren’t an elite team while employing arguably the two best offensive stars in the league, Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl. Maybe the new coaching staff will change the atmosphere in the Alberta capital.
The Flames are almost assured of a berth in the post-season, while there are no guarantees of playoff action for the Oilers, who must continue to perform as they did in the first few games under the new coaching staff. It just wouldn’t be the traditionally exciting Stanley Cup playoffs without the two Alberta teams battling it out.
Surfer Kelly Slater, 50, to AP, not worried about any retirement plans: “Everyone who retires from surfing just goes surfing more.”
Janice Hough of leftcoastsportsbabe.com: “Due to outrage about Kamila Valieva being able to keep her gold medal AND compete as the favourite for the women’s figure skating gold medal despite positive test for banned supplement, I fully expect the IOC to say they will at least keep her out of the Baseball Hall of Fame.”
Gene Principe, Edmonton Oilers between-periods host, on top performers in a recent game vs. Anaheim: “In the first period, it was Sonny (Milano). In the second, it was McLeody (Ryan).”
RJ Currie of sportsdeke.com: “At the Waste Management Open, Harry Higgs lifted up his shirt after a two-putt par to get a reaction from the crowd. Which showed us, among other things, that Higgs needs better waist management.”
Headline at theonion.com: “Tom Brady spends first day retirement studying tape of people to learn how they work”
Comedy writer Alex Kaseberg: “A Chinese news outlet revealed U.S. born-and-raised skier, Eileen Gu, has earned over $42 million in Chinese endorsements since 2021. Interestingly, Gu is a Chinese word that means ‘Ka Ching.’”
Kaseberg again: “Not sure why I am such a fan of Olympic curling. It combines so many bad memories: ice, cold, shouting, sweeping and passing a stone.”
Kaseberg just keeps on coming: “After being reinstated despite a positive dope test, Russian skater Kamila Valieva finished fourth. Finishing first? Karma.”
• Comedy writer Marc Ragovin, on the Russian figure skater claiming she must have inadvertently taken her grandfather’s heart medication: “No wonder her long program consisted of skating in circles with her turn signal on.”
Steve Simmons of SunMedia, on the NBA all-star game in Cleveland and recalling an old Wayne and Schuster airport crack: “Will all those flying to Cleveland please report to the gate to explain why?”
Golf reporter Sean Zak, on Twitter, during the third round of the Genesis Invitational: “Adam Scott has now worn a tan sweater for three straight rounds. Still looking into it, but I believe that is a PGA Tour record.”
By Bruce Penton