Photo Credit: Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports

Even players eagerly await the Battle of Alberta

It’s no secret that fans and media circle the handful of Battle of Alberta games on their respective calendars. But the rivalry remains special to the players on both sides that take part in it.

Calgary Flames captain Mark Giordano has played 50 regular season games against the Edmonton Oilers, dating back to his first Battle of Alberta back in October 2006. He reflected on his memories of the rivalry following morning skate.

“The ones that stand out Iggy had a few big fights against [Sheldon] Souray there, those years,” said Giordano. “More recently, obviously playing against this team now I think both teams are trying to get trending, being consistent playoff teams. Playing against good players, like McDavid’s a really special player obviously in our game. It’s always a great atmosphere, always buzzing no matter what rink you’re in.”

Potentially up to 10 players could make their Battle of Alberta debuts in tonight’s match-up: Elias Lindholm, Dillon Dube, Noah Hanifin, James Neal, Derek Ryan and Juuso Valimaki get their first crack at the Oilers as Flames, while Edmonton netminder Mikko Koskinen and skaters Jason Garrison, Ryan Spooner and Cooper Marody look to make their first appearances.

Flames rookie Juuso Valimaki is a newcomer to this rivalry, but he grew up in Tampere, Finland, a city with two high-end hockey clubs. He played for Ilves growing up and was part of their battles against Tappara.

“There’s always a different feeling, a different buzz, a little more energy all the time,” said Valimaki. “It’s going to be a great night, and hopefully there’s a good energy in the building and we’ll get more energy from that.”

Oilers rookie Cooper Marody has heard a lot about the rivalry from teammates.

“I’ve heard a lot of good things about it,” said Marody. “Obviously a huge battle between the two teams, not too far from each other. Very passionate fans on both ends. I’m just really excited to be a part of it and contribute.”

Flames forward Mark Jankowski had heard a lot about the Battle of Alberta after being drafted by Calgary in 2012. He’s played in three games against Edmonton and felt the battle lived up to its billing.

“I think it’s definitely the biggest rivalry I’ve been a part of,” said Jankowski. “Ever since I was drafted, pretty much the first thing ingrained in my mind is ‘I hate Edmonton.’ It’s always a good matchup between these two teams. We both come out hard and it’s going to be a good game. It’s definitely exciting to be part of something this exciting, and this storied in tradition.”

The first of four regular season Battles of Alberta goes tonight at the Scotiabank Saddledome.