Last week was really all about the Battle of Alberta. The Flames and Oilers faced off twice and neither game was a disappointment. This week’s column is better suited to be a review of a boxing match than a hockey column. I’ll dive into all the punches thrown and gloves dropped up in Western Canada as well as share my thoughts on one of my new favorite hockey-related beverages. Happy Monday!
1. Battle of Alberta: Rounds Two and Three
After the recent scuffle between Matthew Tkachuk of the Flames and Zack Kassian of the Oilers, everyone was looking forward to the next game between the two teams. That game happened to be scheduled for last Wednesday, January 29th. There was a ton of attention on the game, as the big question was when, n0t if, Tkachuk and Kassian would throw hands.
Before those two hooligans could drop the gloves, a surprising pair of fighters beat them to it. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Sean Monahan were the first to fight during last Wednesday’s game.
Not to spoil the rest of the take, but this fight was arguably the best of the night. Both players got a few great shots in and really put their hearts into it. I give RNH the edge over Monahan in this bout. I hope that they give it another go soon, as this is one of the better fights I’ve seen this season.
As for Tkachuk and Kassian, they couldn’t help but get in on the fun. Not even a minute later they agreed to fight before the faceoff and dropped their gloves as soon as the puck was dropped.
This fight was a no-doubter. Not exactly a KO, more of a TKO (I’m not a boxing expert). Props to Tkachuk for agreeing to fight Kassian. As per hockey’s unwritten rules, if you’re going to make borderline hits and target a guy, you have to be able to answer for it. Most of the league’s tough guys felt the same way. And Tkachuk did just that. I was happy to see Kassian get the win in this fight, as I felt Tkachuk went a bit overboard with his antics last game. Still, I love that these two are almost single-handedly firing up an old rivalry.
By the way, the Flames edged the Oilers in a shootout if anyone was wondering. It was a hockey game after all, not a boxing match.
If that wasn’t enough, the two sides squared off again on Saturday night and picked up right where they left off. Late in the second period, Edmonton’s Sam Gagner dove at a puck that had been smothered by Flames’ goalie, Cam Talbot. Calgary took exception to the dive and tempers began to flare. Gagne was immediately jumped by Mark Giordano and TJ Brodie. Of course, Tkachuk was on the ice and couldn’t help himself, dropping the gloves with Ethan Bear.
That wasn’t close to the most exciting part. During the skirmish, Oilers’ goalie, Mike Smith skated to center ice signaling he wanted in on the action. Talbot obliged and a GOALIE FIGHT ensued. Smith wasted little time dummying Talbot and it was glorious.
It was a bad day overall for Calgary, as they lost the game by a score of 8-3.
I want to thank the computer algorithm that schedules NHL games because we were blessed to receive two games between Calgary and Edmonton in one week. I think it’s safe to say the Battle of Alberta is officially back.
2. Ovi Honors Kobe
After the tragic death of NBA superstar Kobe Bryant, many athletes from all professional leagues did something to honor him. Those gestures made their way over to the NHL, too. Last Wednesday, the Capitals’ own, Alex Ovechkin, swapped his number eight jersey for Kobe’s number 24 during warm-ups. The gesture is a bit ironic because Ovechkin already wears number eight, the number Kobe starred in for the first half of his career.
This was such a great gesture by Ovi. Bryant’s death transcends the NBA as he touched more than just basketball fans. I’m happy a player as famous as Ovechkin decided to bring some attention to that. A classy move all around.
3. Pink Whitney Review
I’ve been an avid listener of the Barstool Sports’ podcast, Spittin’ Chiclets, for a few years now. The show, hosted by Barstool personality, Rear Admiral, alongside former NHLers Ryan Whitney and Paul Bissonnette, has spread like wildfire among the hockey community. One of the show’s most interesting offerings is the creation of its own drink, the Pink Whitney. The drink is a pink lemonade vodka, created by Whitney, the f0rmer Penguin.
Last Saturday, I wandered down to my favorite local bar, Durkin’s, and tried it for the first time. I’d heard them talk about it on the podcast so many times that I knew I had to taste it. I’m typically a Coors Lite guy, I couldn’t resist tasting Whitney’s creation.
The cocktail isn’t that complicated, it tastes how you would expect it to. I ordered it with soda water because I don’t know how to drink vodka like an adult. The one thing that stood out most is how smooth it tasted. The word smooth isn’t a word I would describe when writing about my experiences with vodka. The Pink Whitney is different. It tastes exactly like pink lemonade with just enough alcohol so you know it’s there. I would argue that drinking it was my most pleasant experience drinking vodka in my over three years of drinking (legally). I would highly recommend that everyone give the Pink Whitney a try. Even if it’s only for the sake of trying a cocktail created by a former NHLer, which is pretty cool in itself.
4. Kassian Earns An Extension
Zack Kassian has been dominating the news cycle lately, which is not something I would have expected to say ever. Not only has he been playing the enforcer role for the Oilers, but he’s also been scoring some goals. Kassian is having a career year with 14 goals and 15 assists in 47 games. That’s pretty impressive when you consider his previous career highs are 14-17-29. Sure helps when you’re playing alongside Connor McDavid.
His increased productivity earned him a nice chunk of change. Last week TSN’s Bob McKenzie reported that the Oilers and Kassian had agreed to a new four-year, $12.8 million extension. That’s a hefty raise for Kassian who is playing on the last year of a three-year $5.85 million contract he signed before the 2017-18 season.
This contract is by no means a deal-breaker for Edmonton. However, Kassian has fit very nicely alongside McDavid and provides some much-needed grit. For Kassian, this is super cool to see. I love it when tough guys like him get paid. The grind of an NHL season is hard, and it’s even tougher when you’re expected to do all the dirty work. A $3.2 million cap hit isn’t too big either. So Oilers fans shouldn’t be coming at Ken Holland’s throat if Kassian comes down to Earth.
5. Scorpion Sighting in the Desert
The NHL is a league of highlights. And sometimes you have to stop everything you’re doing and just appreciate when the world’s best hockey players can do. Coyotes’ goalie Antti Raanta did just that on Saturday night against the Blackhawks.
Late in the third period, the Blackhawks were putting pressure on the Coyotes in the offensive zone. After stopping Kirby Dach’s initial shot, the puck wound up on Brandon Saad’s stick. Saad, who was hunting for a hat-trick, shot at what was seemingly an open net with Raanta on his stomach. Then, this happened:
I’ve seen a scorpion kick in soccer, (albeit rarely), I’ve never seen it in hockey. It goes without saying this is a save of the year candidate now. It’s just ridiculous. The save also helped the Coyotes guarantee at least as a point as they made it to overtime. Arizona eventually lost to Chicago in a shootout. Still, this save will be on Youtube highlight reels for years to come. ■