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How had there never been a goalie fight in the NHL’s Battle of Alberta? The masked men weigh in

Feb 5, 2021

The stat was a stunner. Sure, the animosity had been building between the Calgary Flames and the Edmonton Oilers, but you never show up to the rink expecting to see a goaltender fight. Still, could it actually be true that in the raucous and rowdy history of this provincial rivalry, there had never before been a punch-up between the puck-stoppers? Really?!? A year after crease counterparts Cam Talbot and Mike Smith chucked knuckles at centre-ice at the Saddledome, and with the Flames and Oilers meeting Saturday for their first meaningful matchup since, it still seems hard to believe, like somebody must have missed a page in the Battle of Alberta’s brawl-filled history book. Not according to these guys. And they’d know. “We had a hard enough job at that time — you didn’t need to be fighting the other goalie,” said Hockey Hall of Fame inductee Grant Fuhr, a masked mainstay during the Oilers’ dynasty. “Besides, both teams were big and tough teams. They didn’t need us squaring off. The last thing we needed to do was get into the fisticuffs.” Advertisement Article content continued Mike Vernon, who was in Calgary’s crease for so many of the standard-def showdowns that made this the NHL’s best feud in the 1980s, concurred. “Surprised? Not really,” Vernon said. “Because it was Fuhrsy or (Andy) Moog at one end. And then it was usually myself or Reggie (Lemelin) at the other end. And we’d rather watch the fights than participate in ’em — and in the Battle of Alberta, there were a lot of fights.” He laughs. “Somebody had to pick up the gloves and the helmets and the sticks after.” Former NHL goaltenders Mike Vernon and Grant Fuhr play in the Shaw Charity Classic celebrity horse race in Calgary on Saturday, August 31, 2019. Gavin Young/Postmedia Postmedia The Flames and the Oilers will renew acquaintances Saturday at the Saddledome (8 p.m. MT, CBC) for their first of 10 clashes in this shortened season. Unfortunately, due to the COVID-19 crisis, there will be no fans in the stands. It will be tough to top the entertainment value of what transpired Feb. 1, 2020, when Talbot and Smith dropped their blocker and trapper, discarded their masks and danced at centre. Smith, who’d worn the Flaming C the previous two winters, was grinning like a Cheshire cat in his post-game scrum. “That’s old-fashioned hockey right there,” he beamed. Except that the old-time twine-minders had never done this. For all the boxing and brawling and brouhaha-ing between the Flames and the Oilers, a goalie fight was uncharted territory. “Until you told me that stat, I never even realized it,” said Jamie McLennan, who was raised in Oil Country and spent five seasons on the payroll at the Saddledome, first as a backup ’tender and later as a member of the coaching staff. “But growing up in St. Albert and watching all those Battles of Alberta, there was enough toughness on both sides that I don’t think the goalies needed to be involved. It was usually Vernie vs. Fuhrsy, and those two had a front-row seat to … for lack of better words … a gong-show. You had Tim Hunter and Jim Peplinski and Nick Fotiu going against Marty McSorley and Kevin McClelland and Dave Semenko. With those guys around, I’m sure the goalies were like, ‘Why would we fight? There are some main cards here — like, legitimately, some of the toughest guys on the planet, when it comes to hockey.’  Advertisement Article content continued “Both teams always had significant toughness,” continued McLennan, now an analyst for TSN. “Even when I was playing and we had the Battle of Alberta, we had Krzysztof Oliwa. (Jarome) Iginla would take care of business. They didn’t need the goalies. They didn’t need Kipper (Miikka Kiprusoff) vs. Tommy Salo or me vs. Joaquin Gage. I think it was the right call for goalies not to mix it up, just based on the amount of toughness those two teams always carried and the emotion involved. There always seemed to organically be some scraps.” What sparked Talbot vs. Smith was a melee at the edge of the Flames’ crease. The simmering feud between Matthew Tkachuk and Zack Kassian had already reignited the Battle of Alberta. Just three nights earlier, those feisty forwards had settled their grudge — or added to it — with a scuffle at Rogers Place. On this evening, in front of their home crowd, the Flames were getting pasted. Talbot, himself an ex-Oilers goalie, took exception when Sam Gagner poked at a puck that he’d smothered. Talbot landed a couple of blows with his blocker, then mixed up with another opponent. At some point, former teammate Darnell Nurse pointed out Smith was waiting near the middle of the rink, leaning on his stick as the mayhem unfolded. And so off he went. “I’ve seen him, and he’s a big boy, so I knew it wasn’t really going to work out well for me,” Talbot said in the aftermath, referencing his 25-lb. disadvantage in that dust-up with Smith. “At the same time, it’s just one of those things that just felt like the right thing in the moment.” Advertisement Article content continued Alas, there will be no rematch Saturday. Talbot is now tending twine for the Minnesota Wild, so a reunion was ruled out when the Flames targeted star puck-stopper Jacob Markstrom in free agency. And while Smith is still with the Oilers, he is currently on long-term injured reserve. It’s up to Markstrom and Mikko Koskinen to carry on this new tradition … or not. According to HockeyFights.com, the ultimate donnybrook database, the four-decade history of the Battle of Alberta has so far served up 521 fighting majors. But that 178-foot buffer between goal-creases had, until last February, always been enough to keep the backstops separated. That’s somewhat shocking when you consider that among the 40 most misbehaved meet-ups in NHL history, at least based on the combined penalty minutes for the two teams, four are instalments of the Battle of Alberta. The Flames and the Oilers racked up a provincial record 250 PIMs on March 20, 1987. Among the infractions, Lemelin was called for roughing up blue-line ace Paul Coffey and vice versa. On the same date eight years later, the two clubs totalled 248 minutes in sins. Goalies Bill Ranford and Andrei Trefilov were upstanding citizens … at least according to the game-sheet. This was a bitter rivalry, but Fuhr explained in a piece for The Players Tribune that he was always buddy-buddy with the gent at the other end. Whether it was Vernon or Lemelin or Don Edwards, he considered them to be friends. Advertisement Article content continued “I wasn’t looking to fight those guys when we played the Flames,” wrote Fuhr, who won five Stanley Cups with the Oilers and would cap his career with a brief stint in Calgary. “We were doing the same job, and we understood each other. We’d get together during those brawls and socialize. We kind of just hung out and enjoyed the fireworks. “It sounds weird to say it, but that’s really the way it usually went. That was sort of what we did — just talk while everyone else beat each other’s brains in.” Socialize? Hilarious. “It’s true,” Lemelin said with a chuckle. “I remember one time, there was a big brawl and Grant and I were kind of holding each other. Like he said, just kind of chatting and watching what was going on. And he ended up tripping over a stick and we both fell down and rolled over and I was on top of him, and we’re both laughing. And I’m saying, ‘Stop laughing! We’re supposed to look like we’re fighting here!’ ” It must not have been a very convincing performance. As the referee furiously scribbled a list of combatants, he ignored the giggling goaltenders. “I had three fights in my career, and they were not against a goalie,” said Lemelin, who moved north from Atlanta with the Flames, stuck around until 1987 and totalled 500-plus NHL appearances. “I never really saw the purpose of this. You know, why would I go fight the goalie at the other end? He didn’t do anything to me. I didn’t do anything to him. You know what I mean? So what would I accomplish? Advertisement Article content continued “I ended up playing with Grant in the Canada Cup in 1984, and I remember golfing with him and everything. Yeah, he was on the other team, and it was the big rivalry. But so what? We were just trying to do our jobs.” That doesn’t necessarily mean the other guys would leave them be. One night in November 1984, Moog — all 5-foot-8 of him — and Flames enforcer Tim Hunter were called for coincidental high-sticking minors just 3:19 into the opening period. Those were the first fouls on an evening that would feature 223 combined penalty minutes. “We all knew the game was on the edge every time we played Calgary,” said Moog, who spent seven seasons with the Oilers and later teamed with Lemelin to win the William M. Jennings Trophy on behalf of the Boston Bruins. “It was always on the edge of getting out of control. And many events did, and you just had to be prepared for that in your mind. The crap at the front of the net, with the battles there, and the goalies could really battle back then … There was always a little ancillary damage to the goalies at that time. I never felt like anybody was coming at me with that intent, but I always knew it was on the edge. “It was just part of the job,” he added. “If you had to do some jousting to get yourself a bit of space, then you had to do some jousting. It wasn’t like I was going to be able to push Tim Hunter or Nick Fotiu out of the way. So a chop on the ankle on a few occasions was my only way to send them a message to get out of the way. It never worked, but that didn’t stop me from doing it.”  Advertisement Article content continued Vernon, listed at 5-foot-9, had another strategy. “I hit a few guys’ ankles and things like that — of course, who didn’t? — but with guys like Semenko in front of me, I just had to look between his legs because he was so big, for crying out loud,” he quipped. McLennan was between the pipes for the Flames for a memorable matchup in Edmonton on Oct. 25, 2003. They’d lost on home ice the previous evening to the St. Louis Blues, and head coach Darryl Sutter had been clear he wasn’t thrilled about their give-a-hoot in that game. As soon as the puck dropped for that Saturday-nighter at what was then Skyreach Centre, Oliwa and Georges Laraque flipped their mitts for a heavyweight bout. By the 34-second mark, there’d been two more tilts. “(Sutter) had just said, ‘You guys have more. You need emotion,’ ” McLennan said. “He wasn’t talking about fighting but he just said, ‘In the Battle of Alberta, you play with emotion. You leave it out there.’ I guess that translated to some fights, but we played a really good game that night, I remember that.” Fans might remember that there were six scraps, albeit none between the netminders. “You feel the energy. You know the guys are invested,” McLennan said. “But it’s different for a goalie. The rest of the guys can use that to bump up their energy level. Guys can skate harder. They can shoot harder. They can hit harder. I couldn’t stop the puck harder. So you have to still keep your emotions in check. That’s the biggest challenge that I always found when I would watch one of my teammates fighting. I’d be energized by it, but it still didn’t change how I tried to approach stopping the puck. Advertisement Article content continued “If I was sitting on the bench, you could feel the energy on the bench. You could feel the bench lift up. Guys get excited, and they’re ready for their next shift. They want to jump out there. It’s different when you’re in the net because, yeah, it boosts your energy level, but that can be counter-productive sometimes if you’re not careful. You have to be mindful of that.” Vernon, who duked it out later in his career with Patrick Roy, treated every Battle of Alberta as an opportunity to prove his mettle. That had nothing to do with trying to bloody a lip or break a nose. His sole focus was stopping the starry likes of Wayne Gretzky, Mark Messier, Jari Kurri and others. In hindsight, a dozen rounds with Mike Tyson might have seemed more pleasant. Nowadays, Markstrom has Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl — currently running 1-2 in the NHL’s scoring race — to contend with, and that’s no treat either. “I was just worried about keeping the game close and coming out alive and not getting embarrassed and made to look like a fool, like I had before against Edmonton,” recalled Vernon, the hometown hero who backstopped the Flames to their only Stanley Cup title in 1989. “I got thrown in one game (in 1984), and they scored four goals in a few minutes and my goals-against was 22.22. I was still in junior, and they called me up and I went in for Don Edwards. They were on a five-on-three, and it was just scary. “There was a picture of that game, and my dad had it blown up and he hung it in my room. He said, ‘You’ll never forget that day.’ And I haven’t. I still talk about it.” Advertisement

Jamie McLennan Investments

1 Investments

Jamie McLennan has made 1 investments. Their latest investment was in Full Cycle Bioplastics as part of their Debt on November 11, 2016.

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Jamie McLennan Investments Activity

investments chart

Date

Round

Company

Amount

New?

Co-Investors

Sources

11/23/2016

Debt

Full Cycle Bioplastics

$0.05M

Yes

2

Date

11/23/2016

Round

Debt

Company

Full Cycle Bioplastics

Amount

$0.05M

New?

Yes

Co-Investors

Sources

2

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