Battle of Alberta

Goalie fight (Talbot vs. Smith), Tkachuk involved in Flames-Oilers brawl

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People predicting that there would be more carnage in the second of this week’s two installments of “The Battle of Alberta” were right. Really, it’s pretty tough to top a goalie fight.

That’s right, during Saturday’s Oilers – Flames game in Calgary, goalies dropped the masks/gloves/blockers/etc. for the first netminder skirmish since Ray Emery didn’t give Braden Holtby much of a choice in 2013.

In this case, Cam Talbot fought Mike Smith. It was part of a larger skirmish, as Talbot was getting into it with some Oilers, and then the two met later on down the line during the brawl. Personally, I thought “Hmm, not sure I’d want to fight Mike Smith.” Such a thought ended up being pretty justified.

Matthew Tkachuk also fought with Ethan Bear during that larger fracas. You can watch the carnage in the video above.

Now, don’t get me wrong. While Saturday takes the cake in my opinion, Wednesday’s shootout win for the Flames was still nasty and spirited. It also involved a brief fight between Tkachuk and Zack Kassian:

Still, it’s tough to top a goalie fight. Bonus points for Smith being with the Flames last year, and Talbot with the Oilers. It adds a level of goofy weirdness that we can all get behind.

The Oilers ended up blowing out the Flames 8-3 on Saturday. The Buzzer explores another big night for Leon Draisaitl, among other topics.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

History of violence: Matthew Tkachuk-Zack Kassian feud

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The Matthew TkachukZack Kassian feud resumes on Wednesday (and then again on Saturday). That bubbling bitterness inspired retrospectives about “The Battle of Alberta,” but Tkachuk vs. Kassian is an entertaining history lesson on its own.

This post aims to summarize that history, which goes back a little further than some might remember.

Tkachuk – Kassian feud flares up in 2018

Amusingly, history already repeated itself with Kassian and Tkachuk. After all, the two basically went through a dress rehearsal of this current battle.

Kassian and Tkachuk went through similar beats (literally and figuratively) during the Flames’ 4-2 win over the Oilers on Nov. 17, 2018.

  • Tkachuk was involved in heavy-hitting that inspired additional violence. Leon Draisaitl lit Tkachuk up the hardest, in that case.
  • Kassian urged Tkachuk to fight. Tkachuk didn’t want to but (wait for it) Kassian forced the issue, anyway.
  • The Flames profited in Kassian taking multiple penalties.

Sound familiar? Enjoy footage of the prequel:

Much like this latest time, Tkachuk essentially shrugged his shoulders when asked about avoiding a fight with Kassian.

“Yeah,” Tkachuk said in Nov. 2018, if you can tell the difference. “Wasn’t going to fight that guy. Probably wouldn’t have been the smart thing at the time.”

In that November 2018 case, the Tkachuk – Kassian violence ranked as arguably a subplot in a larger battle (of Alberta). The stakes eventually heightened, as you know.

Kassian – Tkachuk feud hits a new peak

The brawl and fallout that dropped jaws around the hockey world took place on Jan. 11. This Sportsnet video captures the chaos:

Consider this the abridged version of the events:

  • Tkachuk clobbered Kassian with some big hits, which Kassian argued were “predatory.” Officials didn’t penalize Tkachuk, and Tkachuk didn’t receive supplemental discipline.
  • Kassian snapped and went after Tkachuk, who didn’t consent to a fight.
  • The Flames ended up capitalizing on the power play advantages stemming from Kassian blowing a gasket, scoring the game-winning goal.
  • Kassian received a two-game suspension for his actions.

Trash talk, Part I

Kassian and Tkachuk traded barbs right after the Flames’ win. Kassian called Tkachuk a “young punk” and other worse p-words. Tkachuk said if Kassian didn’t want to get hit, he should “stay off the tracks” and then twisted the knife by score-boarding Kassian with: “we’ll take the power play, we’ll take the game-winner, and we’ll move on to first place.”

Trash talk II: Chirp Harder

People criticize post-game interviews for being cliche-heavy, but they’re important because, in many cases, you get a rare natural reaction before cooler heads prevailed. Delightfully, Kassian still provided bulletin board (and billboard) material even after he had time to settle down.

Following word of his two-game suspension, Kassian claimed that Tkachuk “messed with the wrong guy.”

Kassian also set the stage for future intrigue, ominously stating that he observed explanations for Tkachuk’s hits being legal and “put that in the memory bank.”

The best thing to come from the Tkachuk Kassian feud

The NHL schedule fell incredibly well here, as the Flames and Oilers meet right as Kassian’s suspension ended. Thanks to the All-Star break, people have had plenty of time to hype things up, and to analyze Draisaitl bad-mouthing Tkachuk at said All-Star Game.

That mix of a quick turnaround, yet still weeks between games, also opened up time for something wonderful to happen. What began as a fun bit of trolling with Calgary fans trying to put up a Tkachuk billboard in Edmonton ended up being an enormous victory for various charities.

I’d argue it’s the best thing to come from the rivalry, even if the billboards don’t actually feature Tkachuk’s sneering face.

Previewing the next chapters in the Kassian – Tkachuk feud

So, how will things play out for Wednesday’s game in Edmonton and Saturday’s rematch in Calgary?

There are quite a few key factors to consider:

  • Plenty of eyes will be on these games, possibly limiting carnage. As you might expect, the NHL is sending a contingent of Player Safety reps and other experienced officials.
  • Kassian has — mostly — said all the right things about keeping a cool head. He’s said that “this isn’t the ’80s” and pointed to the standings. Then again, he did make those earlier remarks about noting what type of hits will be in his “memory bank.”
  • Tkachuk has shown repeatedly that he’s not interesting in fighting Kassian. The hockey math makes sense, after all, since Tkachuk is a star and Kassian is a role player.
  • These two teams are tight in the standings, and the Pacific Division is as volatile as this feud.

As you can see, very little separates the Pacific’s top five teams. So far, Tkachuk has successfully baited Kassian, and it’s clear Kassian has been spoken to. Two head-to-head games could be pivotal, particularly if both games end in regulation.

In other words, that violent history probably won’t repeat itself — not yet, and not to the same degree.

That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t get hyped for the next two chapters in “The Battle of Alberta, though.” Kassian said it well:

“ … It’s good for the game,” Kassian said, via Sportsnet’s Mark Spector. “It’s about time we got a little passion and fire.”

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Best moments from 2020 NHL All-Star Game

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After a fun skills competition on Friday, the Pacific Division beat the Atlantic 5-4 to win the 2020 NHL All-Star Game on Saturday. David Pastrnak won the MVP, while the Pacific split that $1 million. Those results don’t capture all of the best moments of the 2020 NHL All-Star Game, however.

Let’s consider some of the funny,  entertaining, and things that we’re more likely to remember than Pastrnak winning MVP (no offense, Pasta).

Laila Anderson introduces the Blues

Having Anderson introduce the Blues’ All-Star representatives was a delight. The Blues kind of owe her after Anderson was their “good luck charm,” right?

Blues fans … cheer for Patrick Kane?

Naturally, the St. Louis crowd was pulling for a Central Division team heavy on Blues. Of course, that meant they also occasionally felt the urge not to boo Patrick Kane of the rival Blackhawks. It made for a funny moment after a Kane goal:

Kane is no stranger to hearing boos at All-Star games, as Nashville fans let him have it (to John Scott’s delight) in 2016. After Saturday’s festivities, Kane explained why the boos don’t bother him that much.

“It’s all in good fun,” Kane said. “To be honest with you, sometimes you get booed, you kind of like it a little bit. It’s St. Louis and Chicago, it’s a huge rivalry. Not only in hockey, but pretty much every other sport they play against each other. I guess that’s only baseball, but… You know what? Had a lot of fun this weekend and I thought that was a pretty cool moment …”

Tkachuk to Draisaitl

“The Battle of Alberta” was put on hold (kind of?) being that Flames star-pest Matthew Tkachuk teamed up with Leon Draisaitl on the winning Pacific team.

The two engaged in an awkward exchange. Tkachuk sent a nice pass to Draisaitl in the opening game, leading to a goal. Draisaitl high-tailed it out of there, possibly while muttering a profanity at his frenemy. Afterward, Draisaitl claimed that he was just joking.

Regardless, nothing from All-Star weekend detracts from the billboard-worthy hype for the next “Battle of Alberta.” To refresh your memory, the Flames and Oilers will meet in what should be fascinating Jan. 29 and Feb. 1 games. Buckle up (and fasten your chinstrap/actually keep your mouthpiece in, Matthew).

Big weekend for Tomas Hertl

Casual hockey fans might know a lot more about Hertl. He brought laughs (and frightened chills) by wearing a Justin Bieber mask during the skills event.

Hertl followed up that style with substance. The Sharks forward scored four (often beautiful) goals in the first round, then managed the All-Star Game final’s clinching goal.

Overall, the 2020 NHL All-Star weekend provided plenty of fun, memorable moments, Tkachuk vs. Tkachuk, and a Mascot Showdown. Chalk that up as a success. If you want more information regarding the events, check the sections below.

Read up on the two first-round games:

Atlantic 9 – Metropolitan 5
Pacific 10 – Central 5

Celebrities, Skills, and more

Recent All-Star Game winners, MVPs

Winners:
2019: Metropolitan 10 – Central 5
2018: Pacific 5 – Atlantic 2
2017: Metropolitan 4 – Pacific 3
2016: Pacific 1 – Atlantic 0
2015: Team Toews 17 – Team Foligno 12
2012: Team Chara 12 – Team Alfredsson 9
2011: Team Lidstrom 11 – Team Staal 10
2009: East 12 – West 11 (OT)
2008: East 8 – West 7
2007: West 12 – East 9

MVPs:
2019: Sidney Crosby
2018: Brock Boeser (quite memorably)
2017: Wayne Simmonds
2016: John Scott (also very memorably)
2015: Ryan Johansen
2012: Marian Gaborik
2011: Patrick Sharp
2009: Alex Kovalev
2008: Eric Staal
2007: Daniel Briere

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Memorable All-Star Game moments abound as Pacific dominates Central

The Central Division couldn’t provide a crowd-pleasing victory, but that second game should leave hockey fans with fun memories. It also sets the stage for a fascinating All-Star Game final featuring a Battle of the Tkachuks. Ultimately, the Pacific advanced by dominating the Central 10-5.

Memorable All-Star moments

Leon Draisaitl said he’d just try to get off the ice if he shared surface with nemesis Matthew Tkachuk as a teammate. Draisaitl had to make himself scarce after Tkachuk set him up with a nice feed for a goal, then:

Rivalries don’t just add spice to the All-Star Game for players. Fans sometimes enjoy awkward-funny moments, too. It doesn’t get much better than St. Louis fans cheering for Patrick Kane helping the Central, then realizing it was Kane and resuming their boos:

Blues fans experiencing mixed Kane feelings stands as one of those things you’ll remember years from now. Even if it means feeling icky.

Pacific cruises against Central

This game featured a lot of energy, but it was one-sided.

Tomas Hertl enjoyed maybe the best performance of the first round of ASG contests. He scored four goals, shaking off that Bieber blunder. Just about all of his goals were pretty.

That said, David Rittich is in the running. He played a big role in the game being so lopsided, as Rittich stopped nine out of 10 shots. Much has been made about Rittich enjoying himself this weekend, and he performed well too.

Matthew Tkachuk had a good game (2G, 2A) alongside frenemy Draisaitl (3G, 1A). Unlike in the earlier game, the Pacific got to such a high goal total without empty-netters.

Kane probably had the best game of any Central players with two goals. Roman Josi (2A) was in the running, too, as were Mark Scheifele and Tyler Seguin (both with 1G, 1A).

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

‘Matthew Tkachuk Friendship Tour’ billboard starts popping up in Edmonton

Tkachuk billboard in Edmonton
via CJAY 92
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Fans must wait about a week for the next round in the “Battle of Alberta,” but if they need a reminder, the “Matthew Tkachuk Friendship Tour” billboard began showing up in Edmonton on Wednesday.

Calgary radio station CJAY 92 made it happen, and also helped to make this Tkachuk-centric trolling effort turn into a boon for charities. The billboards hype up the next meeting between the Calgary Flames and Edmonton Oilers, which happens in Edmonton on Jan. 29. Deliciously enough, the two teams then meet again in Calgary on Feb. 1. Think of all of the opportunities for friendship.

Take a look at the Tkachuk billboard in Edmonton

CJAY 92 shared photos of the billboards that began sprouting up:

You may, however, notice an omission. The final version includes Tkachuk’s name, the amusing “friendship tour,” and his jersey number. It does not, however, feature Tkachuk making a face like he smelled something rancid, or really didn’t appreciate that pun.

Yeah, that bitter beer face plus the heart background did kind of tie the billboard together.

That said, there’s the real fear of Oilers fans defacing the image in Edmonton. Heck, there’s the risk of someone getting injured trying to vandalize a billboard with Tkachuk’s actual face on it. Maybe it was also a rights issue with getting that picture?

So … yes, it’s a very, very mild letdown. Nonetheless, this adds another wrinkle to this fun, silly rivalry within a rivalry.

Recap of feud with Kassian

As a reminder, the ball got rolling as a feud formed between Tkachuk and Zack Kassian. Tkachuk delivered multiple hits — ones that Kassian found dirty — and then Kassian ragdolled the pesty winger. You could say that Tkachuk got the last laugh, as the Flames scored the game-winning goal during power-play opportunities stemming from Kassian’s penalties. The two also traded trash talk after the game.

After letting the two-game suspension sink in, Kassian warned that Tkachuk “messed with the wrong guy.” Kassian implied that the previous outing was merely a skirmish in a larger war (or, you know, “Battle of Alberta”).

This feud would rank as one of the most glorious in hockey if it stayed onto the ice. Yet, off ice moving and shaking really brings this to another trolly, splendid level.

Tkachuk billboard becomes a boon for charities in Edmonton and Calgary

Once CJAY 92 took care of the more fun aspects of the Tkachuk billboard, Mohamed Elsaghir’s Go Fund Me drive instead focused on raising money for ALS. Between that drive and a $10K donation by entrepreneur W. Brett Wilson helped bump the total contributions above $20K.

While that charitable run came via Flames fans, Oilers devotees made waves for a good cause, too. What started with a fun tweet and $25 donation from Oilers fan Samantha Costa ended up being a boon, too.

Brown Bagging It, one of the benefiting charities, summed everything up nicely:

***

Overall, great stuff. It makes you wonder: could enterprising Oilers fans come up with a billboard idea for the next game on Feb.1? Maybe something along the lines of, “Thanks for James Neal?”

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.