Mark Spector’s Battle of Alberta Is A Fascinating Read

It’s become a truism that history is written by the victors. When you consider that during the rollicking 1980s and early 1990s the Edmonton Oilers won five Stanley Cups and beat the Calgary Flames in four of five head-to-head playoff meetings, it’s actually quite appropriate that the definitive history of the Battle of Alberta is written by a guy from Edmonton that came up as a sportswriter via covering the Oilers of that era.

Mark Spector’s new book, the aptly-titled Battle of Alberta, is exactly what you would hope for in a book about hockey’s best non-Original Six rivalry.

The book is laid out more or less in linear fashion, with a bunch of chapters drilling down into specific topics in the lore of the Battle. Spector deftly handles the subject matter with a mixture of good humour and hindsight, pointing out occasional parallels between the 1980s rivalry and today’s more tame version. He’s at his best when working in the insane number of interview quotes he collected – Spector’s been at it for awhile, having gotten his start in Alberta’s capital working the NHL beat, and he gets quotes from everyone you’d hope he would, and a bunch from some surprising sources as well.

The best thing about the book is its focus. While Spector occasionally makes mention of contemporary players and subjects, the book’s fundamentally a drill-down into the 1980s classic Battle of Alberta between two of the NHL’s best squads. You get long explorations of Cliff Fletcher, Glen Sather, Mark Messier, Bob Johnson and other major figures – the final chapter is a look at Theoren Fleury and the 1991 knee-slide goal in Game 6 of the playoffs – but he also spends time discussing how the Battle impacted some lesser figures, and how some lesser figures impacted them.

A great example of this is an early chapter that spends a great deal of time discussing the background of former Flames defender Charlie Bourgeois. Spector discusses Bourgeois’s hockey career, his family background, and tells a fascinating story regarding Bourgeois’ father – a police officer who met a tragic end. The point is to get across to the reader just what motivated and molded the younger Bourgeois into the player he became. Spector delves into those kinds of details throughout the book and it’s those elements that elevate the project from a well-written historical recollection into something that really showcases the importance of the Battle of Alberta to the individuals who took part in it.

The chapters are all somewhat self-contained, which works well the majority of the time but occasionally leads to paragraphs that give a reader a minor case of deja vu, because you swear you’d read a part of that story before. The good thing is that this minor repetition does help at times where Spector wants to make a point, or where he reintroduces a person into the narrative – I swear, he comes up with five or six ways to refer to Alberta sportswriting legends Jim Matheson and George Johnson in the book, for example.

For those that never experienced the Battle of Alberta first-hand – myself, I was a bit young to recall the majority of the glory days – this book is a tremendously fascinating look back at a by-gone era. It’s occasionally tinted with a bit too much nostalgia and there’s a chapter on the journalist aspect of the Battle which may come across as too much inside baseball (I liked it), but it’s as well-written and balanced a reckoning of the rivalry as can probably be written. Any fan of the game that revels in stories about the olden days will have a grand old time digging into these pages.

    • Bob Cobb

      My original comment prior to being moderated used terms that had been used by personalities on both the Team 1260 in Edmonton and the Fan 960 out of Calgary to describe homer reporting, that is all I was getting at.

  • Big Cap

    Theo Fleury’s OT GAME Winning, knee slide in game 6 was awesome for all Flames fans.

    To bad for all the Flames fans, that Esa Tikkanen’s Hat Trick, OT, SERIES winning goal, one game later slammed the door on our little brothers from the south. See ya!

    GO OILERS!!

    • WhoreableGuy

      The Fleury goal reminds me of what’s regarded as the greatest goal in Winnipeg Jets history – Dave Ellet’s OT winner on Bill Ranford in Game 4 in 1990. The Oilers actually came back from the 3-1 deficit and won the Stanley Cup.

      Both goals etched in history, but at the end of the day the Oilers won both series.

    • True that! Hamilton appears to be part of the problem not the solution and that 3rd period magic which defined them last season has turned back into a pumpkin. It’s too early to say that they cant pull out of it, but it sure looks good on them.

    • SSB1963

      Misery loves company hey?

      Just a reminder the Oilers have just one more win then the Flames and they have scored the same amount of goals.

      How high is that horse now?

      • vetinari

        High enough to look down at you flamers, backhair!

        Seriously, we are used to dismal starts but your hype machine from last year was cranked to 10 until the draft and at 9 until the star of the season so excuse us if OilerNation has little sympathy for your team.

        Enjoy the draft lottery. May even see you there and if so, we only need an 11.5% chance to be successful.

        • For Pete's Sake!

          Like a true Oilers fan, you already know what chances you have of winning the draft lottery next year, lol.

          You know this article was posted at Flames Nation too right?

          • Jordan McNugent-Hallkins

            Don’t pretend like your not on Flames Nation trolling everyday…

            With your annoying ‘I think I’m cleverly trolling the Flames’ comments.

            And its actually Gaudreau digging coilers out of a litter box.

          • Jordan McNugent-Hallkins

            I’ve made three comments on FN. Two this summer, one this month. First comment was to say Draisaitl was tracking like a 1C, second was to laugh at zigzag complaining that FN mods don’t ban trolls, and the last one was saying you guys should have traded Gio the summer instead of signing him for 6 years.

            Go Oilers!

          • West

            Read much? The comment had nothing to do with the chances of winning the draft lottery next year which you may or may not know are set by the final standings. It was about the fact that when the flames finish last in the standings and have a 25% chance of winning the lottery, if the Oilers are in the lottery, we can and will win the lottery because its what we are better at than any team ever. Also Stanley Cups 5-1. We are better at that than you also.

          • West

            Yeah, it’s October.. there are literally no NHL fans thinking about the draft lottery except for in Edmonton.

            Also.. nobody cares about the Stanley Cups that you won 25 years ago. Most people will remember the Oilers for the most consecutive seasons missing the playoffs, and most draft lotteries won.

      • Its about the height we expected. We lost to the best teams in the league on the road. We didn’t expect to be contenders this year. Its Flames fans who thought (probably still think) that Johnny “Sam Gagner” Gaudreau is the next Kane and that they are right up with the best in the league based on crazy fluke of a year.

        BTW – Hows that $4 million dollar goalie you just signed 3 months ago working out? Waivers for RAMO!

        • For Pete's Sake!

          Nothing wrong with Gaudreau.. he has more points then anyone on the Oilers.

          I suppose the Oilers have no idea what it’s like to put a 3 million dollar goalie on waivers do they?

          • ThinkingOutLoud

            Scrivens contract is $2.3 million not $4. And he was signed by the last administration, and is the last year of contract.

            Ramo was JUST SIGNED. 90 days ago. LOL.

            My issues isn’t that Sam Gagner Gaudreau is a decent player. Its just that Flames fans have pumped his small little tires so full he has nowhere to go but down. I feel sorry for the little guy.

          • West

            Ramo was signed for 3.8 if you are going to be exact, and it was a one year deal.

            He was signed because the Flames had a potential deal for Hiller.

            Nobody actually cares that he’s on waivers because Hiller and Ortio are both better goalies, it actually makes us a better team.

            So if you think that it is an insult in anyway is pretty lame.

          • Ramo is average at best. There are times when looks decent, but he lets some real soft goals in.

            Ortio saved the Flames bacon last season when both goalies were injured, and one of many reasons Flames made the playoffs last year.

          • The Last Of Barrett's Privateers

            That’d be grammar check you spelt it right just wrong word.

            Ah flamers trying so hard but just not meeting expectations hmmm sounds a lot like the club this year.

          • God I hate the Flames

            I’m an Oilers fan but that was about the best comeback one could make. Touche. Wouldn’t mind having Gaudreau on our team. And we’re not exactly getting great value out of Scrivens at the moment. None-the-less, I continue to hate the flames.

        • Tomas Oppolzer

          Gagner has never even had a 50 point season. Gaudreau has had 60 and has 7 points in 6 games this season. That comparison was so bad. Like seriously. Did you think about it all? Come on. Even other Oil fans recognize the elite offensive talent Johnny has. Don’t be so bitter.

          • Skele

            Seriously? Gaudreau won the Hobey Baker, was runner up for the Calder trophy, and has pretty much scored a point per game since coming to the NHL.

            Yup, really grasping at straws there.

          • Johnnydapunk

            Hobey Baker award.. LOL. Following in the footsteps of such heavyweights as Matt Gilroy, Blake Geffrion, Andy Miele, Jack Connely and Drew LeBlanc the 5 years before him.

            Who? Exactly. Only a Flames fan would care about the Hobey Baker award.

            I think Sam Gagner won the Midget AAA trophy once.

          • smiliegirl15

            Hey Tom, maybe Gagner has not seen a 50 point season, but give me a shout when Gaudreau has his name in the NHL record book along side,
            Gretsky,Lemieux, Rocket Richard. Paul Coffey etc.

            PS; Not slagging Gaudreau, plays a strong game every shift.

          • mrBacon

            Seriously though, all bias aside, are you saying you would take Sam over Gaudreau? One game doesn’t make a player. If it did, Rick Kessell wouldv’e been the greatest player of all times.

          • Jordan McNugent-Hallkins

            You just don’t get it Backburner.

            Oilers didn’t hype our expectations so there is no need for excuses we are right where we figured wed be this year outside playoffs playing meaningful games after Christmas.

            Flamers have been saying all summer and especially after picking up Hamilton that you’d be in playoffs guaranteed and going for the cup.

            Oilers fans knew that was unlikely and are now enjoying the flames foot in mouth that weve had to deal with from MacT and our past management.

            Gaudreau is good, Hamilton will be fine just needs some games under new coach and system. But your team is still in rebuild mode and no flamer wants to accept it that’s whats the best part.

          • It was nuts I live in Red Deer work in Olds so listen to the Calgary radio at lunch and they believed they were on the road to Stanley this year was said so many times this summer it was crazy.

            Calgary Flames 2014-2015 look at Colorado Avalanche 2013-2014 and there record now…….

          • I think the writing was on the wall last year that the Flames overachieved and wouldn’t be able to maintain that level of play. I am not sure Flames fans were willing to admit that…

            It will be interesting to see how their 2015/16 season ends up. I would be surprised at a playoff berth for them, but you never know. Their D really is solid. They just don’t have a G to rely on.

          • The Last Of Barrett's Privateers

            Agreed, I also think they will be scary good about same time as oilers looking forward to Calgary and Edmonton BOA over next few years.

          • Yep we sure did make that mistake lots guess what happened to those guys……. You got it they were all fired this off season oilers fans saw it coming in Calgary this year. Ala Colorado two years ago.

            We didn’t hype McDavid actually its the rest of the NHL I believe the prediction from our GM was for 45 points this year. He is producing at .8333 per game so should be attainable.

            Also our GM said nothing about making playoffs this year just playing more meaningful games.

          • #97TRAIN

            You are right.we were happier than hell that we got McDavid but still know that we were probably going to finish outside the playoffs unless everything fell into place like goaltending,a career year from everybody,out of this would shooting % etc. crazy luck and third period comebacks…Sound familiar?

          • Spaceman Spiff

            ^^ THIS x 10000

            Flames fans don’t get it.

            You are the guy who got dealt some lucky hands in poker, made the final table, and now think you are actually an elite poker player.

            Usually you congratulate the amateur that fluked his way into the final table. Except when he gets up on the table, starts talking down to everyone else and bragging about how awesome he is at poker. Then you just love to see him crash and burn.

            And we are really enjoying the crash.

  • Leef O'Golin

    Man, I hated those Flames…HATED and still hate, with one notable exception. Lanny McDonald used to do a lot with Special Olympics and my brother got to meet and play street hockey with him back in the 80’s. After that, every time he’d see Lanny on TV he’d always say “Hey, there’s my friend”. After moving to YYC in the late 90’s I ran into him on the street so I had to stop him, introduce myself, and tell him that he had made a friend for life in my brother. After learning I was an Oiler fan (“oh, I’m sorry…haha”) we chatted for a few more minutes about hockey and whatnot then moved on. Class act.

    • Lowe But Now High Expectations

      Totally agree with you on Lanny. Great guy. One of the hardest times for me was the 89 finals. I hate the Canadiens as much as the Flames. But the Lanny goal on Roy was great to watch. I’m glad he got his ring.

    • Sheldon "Oilers Fan for Life!!!"

      I actually Cheered for the Flames in 1989 Just so Lanny would have his name on the Cup. I still do not regret doing that as having the other team win it would be worse as there was no one on that team I could cheer for.

    • D

      Most likely not. Registered trademark protection generally extends to specific classes of product or service that is delineated by the owner upon initial filing. Moreover, a registered trademark is indicative of product/service origin, and in the case of Spector’s book, the origin will clearly be Spector and his publisher (with “Battle of Alberta” being the title, not the source). In WIPO countries, both elements are required to succeed in a trademark infringement claim.*

      *This is not legal advice.

  • CMG30

    In many ways, the Flames are paying for the unexpected success they had last season. It was one of those seasons where things just always seemed to break right despite the fact that the Flames had no business winning many of the games they did. Great for the fans but led to several (possibly) disastrous consequences.

    First, they over-preformed in the McDavid year. Ouch.

    Second, the fans now have unrealistic expectations of what level of performance they can expect from the team. It got so bad there was lots of fans talking about ‘best defense in the league’ and comparisons of players like Gaudreau to greats like Gretzky and Lemeux. Now don’t get me wrong, the Flames do have some good pieces but when comparisons like this are continually thrown around unchallenged, reality will eventually bite hard.

    Third, continually squeaking out wins takes the pressure off of fixing structural failings. (If we always seem to be able to pull it out in the 3rd, maybe it’s OK that we’re always getting shelled in our own end).

    Fourth, the Flames have the opposite problem of the Oilers. Whereas continually losing has devalued many of the Oiler players, winning has OVERvalued many Flames who have now obtained generous contracts. (Hello, Gio! Must be nice to know that at 39 you’ll be making ~7 million!)

    One hopes that the Flames can pull it out in a hurry as the BOA was a great thing but it will be tough. We here at Oilernation know that it can take forever to pull out of the rut, and while it’s fun to watch the Flames faceplant out of the gate, we can’t get too cocky as the Oil are going to be in tough this year as well.

  • Oilerz4life

    You couldn’t pay me to read his mindless drivel. Like the time he said Iginla had more class than Wayne Gretzky. Goof. Spectard writey booky. Woopty doo. Flamer. No thanks.

      • Oilerz4life

        Spector is a Flames goof from Edmonton. Sportsnet type aka: Kyprios, Strombo, Hrudey. John Garrett. I watched with my own eyes as he personally betrayed Gretz when Iginla was traded. Pumping up Iggy’s tires and back stabbing Gretzky in the Saddledome. You know it’s Spector day on Flames Nation today right.

        As far as I’m concerned he’s stepped over the line with his Sportsnetsy sellout Flames crap. Forget about it. I will never chear the Flames. When they were eliminated last year was a breath of relief. Never. Spector crossed the line. Treason.

        I read plenty of hockey books but that one is off my list. You don’t betray Gretzky in Calgary and call youself an Oilers fan. Sorry. My brother and I watched Gretz last game in the dome as loyal Oiler fans and his “journalism” is sportsnetsy treasonous traitorism as far as I’m concerned.

        • Admiral Ackbar

          Were you even alive when Gretzky was playing?

          Drama like you’re spewing deserves to be on a soap opera. Have you ever thought of auditioning?

          Grow up. It’s not Mein Kampf.

        • For Pete's Sake!

          What a load of crap. “Treasonous traitorism” because he “pumped up Iggy’s tires,” in some comments on Sportsnet.

          Take a few deep breaths and calm down Oilerz4. What are you going to do if the Oilers ever play Calgary in a playoff game again??

          Probably die of apoplexy.

  • rockmoss

    I fondly remember the 1980’s Battle of Alberta – especially the playoff series. They were fast, intense, and exciting. They were usually the most entertaining series of the playoffs with the next series somehow seeming to be slow and a bit dull. Fun times for Alberta and our Oilers.

  • For Pete's Sake!

    I’ve always liked Mark Spector. I’ve looked forward to his comments on Sportsnet. He’s one of the better guys on those broadcasts.

    That’s a hockey book I’m going to buy. One that talks about the glory days of two great Alberta NHL teams.

    There’s so many books about the Leafs and the Canadiens. We need more about our Western teams.

    I can’t wait to read Mark’s perspective on the BOA. I’m sure it’ll bring back some great memories.

  • For Pete's Sake!

    Just a little correction on Spectors intro.

    “is written by a guy from Edmonton that came up as a sportswriter via covering the Oilers of that era”

    The above is wrong. I worked in good old EJ newsroom during those years and Spec covered high school sports. He NEVER covered Oilers at that time, Cam Cole and Matty did.

    • Jason Gregor

      Completely incorrect.

      He started covering the Oilers full time in 1989. And he was lucky enough to be in building in 1984 and 1985 when covering them for U of A.

      Suggesting he never covered Oilers is 100% inaccurate. Ryan quoted that line directly from the book, because, Spector actually did cover them in that era.

      In the book Spec talks in detail about specific times he covered the team and for which paper and in what exact role.

  • Oilerz4life

    Good on Mark for the book! A feat that most of us would never be able to do.

    Having family in Cowtown, there has always been “our own family stlyed BOA” for years. Back in the hay-day of the Mighty Oil, most of the boasting was done by the Edmonton side of the battle. Despite the fact that both teams have been poor to absolute garbage (See Oilers for that honour) for the last number of years, there is still that spark of BOA lying underneath fans of both teams.

    It would be fantastic for both teams to emerge once again as it was in the former years, when each and every game against each other was an execellent display of pure rivalry entertainment. IMHO, those early days of both respected frachises, it was entertainment to the extreme! It sure beat the same old boring CBC HNIC diet of Montreal and the Leafs.

    BTW: Lanny was Lanny…everyone like Lanny!

    Go OIL Go!

  • Having lived through the 80’s BOA, it was great, exciting, intense.

    I definitely will not be reading the book, don’t really have interest in the side stories and the lesser knowns. Good luck Mr. Spector. I hope the book does well.

  • The Last Of Barrett's Privateers

    I remember cheering for USSR when they scored on the Flames.
    My Grandfather gave me this look and said ” do you want to grow up cheering for commies!”

    I said better then cheering for the Flames, I was young at that time maybe 8 or so.

    On a different note: Is that Fuhr with a cage on! Rookie year?

    • Johnnydapunk

      Weird how the mask Fuhr was wearing in the photo was the first thing I noticed too. I’m actually a bit confused and would love to know that little tidbit of info about him as he had I think a few other masks during that time in his rookie season, 2 that were like what he wore in the early years (old school all fibreglass Harrison masks) then switched to a few combo styles with both CCM HT2 and Cooper Sk2000 helmets, then it wasn’t until a few years in he switched to what is common now being the fibreglass/cage combo.

      *Fun fact, the fibreglass mask/cage style was invented by Dave Dryden (brother of Ken) who used to play for the Oil and Eddie Mio and himself were the first to wear them.

      • Leef O'Golin

        That’s an interesting fun fact, dude. I seem to remember Mio stopping a puck with the old style mask and was out of the lineup for a spell. The injury was listed as “bruised face” IIRC.

      • The Last Of Barrett's Privateers

        That’s a cool piece of hockey trivia let alone Oilers triva!

        I was always under the impression Chico Resh was the first and I don’t really know why? Haha

        What I’m thinking is Fuhr must be in the middle of the transition from mask to half mask because I got his rookie card and that’s the last time I seen him in the helmet cage combo.

    • Mike Modano's Dog

      That is Fuhr-sy…but it was his second year. I remember it well because as a kid I was so disappointed that he wasn’t wearing a mask anymore. The first year he wore a pretty old-school, Iron Man-looking mask without a lot of fancy paint, and was possibly my fav. After a season or two of his helmet and cage he went to his most familiar mask and paint job. 🙂

      If this works check the picture of Fuhr’s original mask here

      http://www.fslocal.com/blog/came-montreal-goalie-mask/

  • Spaceman Spiff

    Fun fact: Although Fleury’s hot-dog slide made it look like he scored the Stanley Cup winning goal, there was another game played after Game 6 of that series. I hope Spector’s book notes the result of that game.

  • BobbyCanuck

    Looking forward to a renewed BOA

    The path for the Oilers hoisting the Cup has gone through Calgary 4 out of our 5 Cup wins.

    Looking forward to destroying the Flames on the march to our next group of Cups.

    Flames fans, please feel free to retort with defensible logic…history is on our side!