A fierce hockey rivalry between Alberta’s two largest cities is set to continue Sunday when the Edmonton Oilers and Calgary Flames make their way to the provincial capital for Game 3 of their epic playoff series.
The NHL‘s first playoff edition of the Battle of Alberta in more than 30 years has piqued more than the interest of hardcore hockey fans, but also other Edmontonians and Calgarians now enthusiastically exhibiting their civic pride. A PhD student at the University of Alberta’s psychology department said that she believes it will bring mental health benefits.
“We can’t just be worried all the time,” Christine Kershaw told Global News on Saturday, noting the past two years have been hard on people because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“(It’s good for people to) bring themselves together, especially since we’ve been so apart these past two years, both through physical distancing and the politics.”
Global News spoke with several Oilers fans on Saturday. Sporting an Oilers jersey on the street, Paige Broz said she grew up in Alberta but was too young to really understand the significance of past playoff series between the province’s two NHL teams. She said its positive impact this spring is clear to see though.
“It’s been a long couple of decades here and a long, really tough two years,” Broz said.
“This is exactly what we need. People are out. People are excited. It just doesn’t get any better than this.”
Not only has the second-round playoff series seen fans pack the two cities’ arenas, but thousands are gathering in public squares or at outdoor viewing parties to cheer on the Flames and Oilers as they battle to emerge victorious and inch their way closer to a Stanley Cup final.
“(It’s a good thing) if it gives people a break from the past two years,” Kershaw said. “(It) promotes people going outside… (and helps with) re-establishing community ties.
“Ultimately, people want to feel good about themselves. They want to be proud of where they’re from and they want to know or have a clear understanding of their place in the world.
“In some ways it’s great because people can not think about things that make them different from their fellow citizen, and instead how they’re better than someone else.”
Mark Ferguson has been an Oilers season-ticket holder for over 25 years. He believes the series has been unifying, even though Albertans are split on which team they support.
“It actually brings the two cities closer together with the competition,” he said. “I think it’s good for the whole community, the city and the province as a whole.
“It’s the best feeling ever to be amongst the fans in the building.”
Kershaw noted there can be negatives that emerge from a passionate hockey rivalry.
“I’ve seen videos of people celebrating by putting down other people, and I think that’s an easy way of galvanizing your group, but it’s also pretty common and I don’t think that’s super great for relationships in the future,” she said, adding that overall, the playoff series has been a “healthy competition” for both players and fans.
In terms of so many Edmontonians and Calgarians sporting their Oilers and Flames jerseys, Kershaw suggested such acts help to create camaraderie.
“You might not even know these people at the bar but you know if someone is wearing the same uniform as you, you know they’re going to be equally as excited, they’re going to have the same values, and you know that if they’re excited, you can be excited.”
Kershaw noted that the rivalry between Edmonton and Calgary goes beyond the ice.
“It’s kind of in the history of both cities to have this competition between them,” she said. “The Battle of Alberta is just the latest iteration, while in some ways I think it’s one of the strongest iterations because people really identify more with sports than say transportation or education.”
Kershaw said the city whose team loses the series may well latch on to something else where they believe they are superior.
“If maybe the Oilers win, then Calgarians might say, ‘Well, we still have better transportation.’ And then it Just goes right back to a discussion of who is better.”
Despite some worrisome moments during Game 2 on Friday night, Ferguson said he has “never lost faith in the Oilers.”
“I think they’re gonna go all the way this year,” he said.
Broz suggested that psychology perhaps played somewhat of a role in the Oilers’ win Friday night.
“Áfter about the 10-minute mark, the confidence kind of took a turn, and the team just said, ‘We can win this.’ And they sure did.”
–With files from Chris Chacon, Global News