Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Colorado Avalanche on the Road in Alberta

One of these days I'm going with the Avs on one of these Alberta road trips. This one I could even get in three Canadian teams (with a game in Vancouver) in less than a week!! That would be so much fun.
No such luck today, so…I'm here with a little Edmonton Oilers and Calgary Flames history. Though Alberta is full of hockey history, I'll start with the World Hockey Association in the 1970's.
It seems Alberta was destined to have two professional teams; it just took a little time to get all the pieces to fall into place. When the World Hockey Association was formed, Edmonton had the Oilers and Calgary was attempting to ice a team as well, the Broncos, but the team folded before the league got rolling. So the Edmonton Oilers were renamed the Alberta Oilers and were slated to split their games between Edmonton and Calgary. That plan was scrapped before the Oilers and the World Hockey Association opened for the first season in 1972 and it reverted back to the Edmonton Oilers.
Prior to the 1977-78 season the Oilers were nearly a part of the NHL, but a merger was killed and the fate of the Oilers was in the balance, not for the first time. New owner Peter Pocklington was considering closing up the team and was rumored to be trying to buy the Colorado Rockies. The Oilers did continue and in 1978 acquired the rights to Wayne Gretzky. On Gretzky's 18th birthday he would sign a deal with Pocklington at center ice in front of 12,000 fans. And I thought Duchene coming to town was creating hoopla? Wow.
The 80’s for the Oilers are well documented, but it wasn't just the Oilers that were winning championships. The Edmonton Eskimos won five straight Grey Cups from 1978-83, and a sixth in 1978. That's the Canadian Football League, by the way. The Oilers would later be allowed to buy their way into the NHL for a mere $6 million. They are the only original WHA team left in the NHL, in their original city.
Meanwhile, Calgary was still struggling to get into the WHA. The city was home to the Calgary Cowboys from 1975-77. But that team folded in short order.
The NHL arrived in Calgary when the Atlanta Flames arrived in 1980. For reasons I cannot discern, they kept the Flames name replacing a flaming 'A' logo with a flaming 'C'. Not real imaginative but on the upside the team avoided being named after some sort of cowboy accessory as was an apparent obsession of all the previous teams. Though to this day they play in the Saddledome. No need to get into how wound up I get about Denver's identity issues as a cow town.
In the Flames second season in Calgary, they traded for Lanny McDonald from the Colorado Rockies. The mustachioed McDonald would finish his career with the Flames and have his number retired. I believe only he and Mike Vernon are in the rafters.
The flames and the Oilers are separated by a mere 180 miles. A natural rivalry, and in 1983 the Flames took the Oilers to seven games in the Smythe Division finals, eventually losing to the Stanley Cup winning Oilers. And so a great rivalry was born, "...you could feel the electricity in the building, playoffs or regular season." said then GM Cliff Fletcher.
Sound like two teams we know a lot about here in Denver?

-From the Point

Thanks to Mike Board, Michael McKinley and Brian McFarlane for writing such great histories of hockey that I have summarized above.

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