'The Battle of Alberta' reignites: Everything to know about the Matthew Tkachuk-Zack Kassian feud

Sporting News

Alberta's two NHL clubs have been locked in a close battle for the Pacific Division title all season, making every "Battle of Alberta" a high-quality contest, but an incident between Oilers forward Zack Kassian and Flames forward Matthew Tkachuk on Jan. 11 brought tensions to a season-high and caught the rest of the league's attention in the process.

Kassian was suspended two games for instigating an altercation with Tkachuk after Calgary's chief instigator laid multiple aggressive body checks on him during the Jan. 11 game, which the Flames won 4-3.

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The first game Kassian was eligible to return for happened to be the next time the Oilers and Flames played: Jan. 29 at Rogers Place in Edmonton. Calgary won that game 4-3 in a shootout; Kassian and Tkachuk put on a show by dropping the gloves against for a fight.

Even though both sides appear satisfied after, Wednesday night may not have ended the saga. Edmonton and Calgary play again on Feb. 1 in Calgary.

Here's everything to know about the whole situation since the moment Tkachuk threw that body check on Kassian on Jan. 11:

The original incident

All this started during the Flames' 4-3 win over the Oilers on Jan. 11, in which Tkachuk enraged Kassian after he threw two controversial hits on the Oilers forward throughout the game. Kassian viewed those hits as predatory and dropped the gloves for a fight after Tkachuk streaked down the ice to hit him behind the net the second time — but Tkachuk wasn't interested in a brawl.

Kassian ultimately served a double-minor penalty for roughing Tkachuk and a 10-minute misconduct for his beat down. Tkachuk, who made no attempt to engage Kassian in a fight, got off without any penalties. The Flames used that power-play opportunity to take the lead, contributing to their win.

Kassian and Tkachuk's postgame comments

“We lost the game, it sucks, but all in all he’s just a young punk who has to figure that aspect out," Kassian said after that game (via the Athletic). "He’s a pretty good player, but he’s a p—. He’s the definition of it. He wouldn’t fight me two years ago, said I was a fourth-liner. Now I have 13 goals. What’s the excuse now?”

"If you’re going to throw hits like that, you’ve got to answer the bell once in a while," he added. "I’m not the first guy to say that."

“If [Kassian] doesn’t want to get hit, then stay off the tracks,” Tkachuk told reporters. “(I) caught him three times there, so you think he’d learn after the first one, but if he wants to react like that, we’ll take the PP, we’ll take the game-winner and we’ll move on to first place.”

Kassian implied that he might personally seek retribution in the future — knowing full well the teams would play again soon.

“It’s going to be one of those games where I know he’s not going to fight," he said. "But maybe it’s my turn to deliver something, to follow him around a little and wait until he gets in a bad situation. Simple."

On the Pat Steinberg radio show after that Jan. 11 game, Flames defenseman Rasmus Andersson called Kassian's decision to fight Tkachuk one of the "biggest coward moves" he has ever seen and said the Oilers have some "pretenders" on their roster.

Kassian is suspended; Tkachuk's hits ruled clean

On Jan. 13, the league's Department of Player Safety announced Kassian was suspended two games for his alteration with Tkachuk. Kassian — in the league's eyes — violated Rule 46.2 of the NHL rulebook as an aggressor for his role in the incident. The rule states that the "aggressor in an altercation shall be the player who continues to throw punches in an attempt to inflict punishment on his opponent who is in a defenseless position or who is an unwilling combatant."

The league noted that Kassian never granted Tkachuk an opportunity to square up or drop his gloves for a proper fight. While former NHLers Scottie Upshall and Teemu Selanne spoke up against Tkachuk's hits on Twitter, the league confirmed to ESPN that it viewed both hits in question as "legal, full-body checks delivered to a player carrying the puck."

“While we acknowledge [Kassian's] frustration, players are not excused from grossly violating league rules in retribution or retaliation for hits thrown on them, legal or otherwise," the league's player safety department advised in a video explaining the rationale for his suspension.

Kassian's post-suspension comments

Kassian again implied he might seek retribution on Tkachuk down the road after his suspension had been announced.

"I'm not crying about the hits, it's hockey. It's a game of hockey. It's rough," Kassian told reporters. "You play with fire, eventually you're going to get burned. He messed with the wrong guy and I don't think he realizes that we are in the same division and [I] have a great memory."

In particular, Kassian seemed miffed that Tkachuk would not just fight him to resolve the incident, saying "if you're going to play big boy hockey, you've gotta answer the bell every once in a while."

What other Edmonton Oilers had to say about the incident

Two days after the initial meeting, Oilers winger Leon Draisaitl was asked about potentially playing with Tkachuk at the All-Star Game as part of the Pacific division's team. Draisaitl told reporters, "I'd probably get off the ice."

James Neal — who played for the Flames just last season — called Tkachuk's comments about Kassian "staying off the tracks," stupid. He said that Tkachuk should not leverage such heavy hits if he does not plan to answer a challenge to fight and that the whole sequence shows that Tkachuk has a lack of respect for his peers on the ice.

"He targets him, he targets his head, he chases him into a battle he's not in and takes him out," Neal told TSN. "You don't see anyone else in the league doing that because they know they'd have to fight [Kassian]."

Flames GM Brad Treliving defends Tkachuk

Flames general manager Brad Treliving told reporters on Jan. 16 that his organization has no qualms with how Tkachuk conducts himself on or off the ice and that they want him to continue to play the same way.

“What’s bothered me about a lot of [it], I’m not a big fan of the talk in the media and all the rest of it, some of comments that have been made towards Matthew,” Treliving told Sportsnet. “Number one, we’ve got his back. I think there’s 30 other teams other than ours who would take him on their team in a New York second. And some of the crap, I guess would be the best way to put it, written or tweeted or talked about, I think is just that."

NHL trying to calm waters ahead of next matchup

Also on Jan. 16, TSN's Pierre LeBrun reported that NHL Department of Player Safety head George Parros and the league's director of hockey operations, Colin Campbell, held separate phone calls with the general managers of both teams this week expressing the need for both sides to calm down ahead of the next game.

In addition, Parros will reportedly attend the Jan. 29 game between Edmonton and Calgary to ensure cooler heads prevail amid the war of words between the two teams.

What was said about the incident during All-Star Weekend?

Draisaitl's comments about leaving the playing surface if he finds himself playing a shift with Tkachuk during the All-Star Game allowed questions about lingering bad blood carrying over into what is normally a happy-go-lucky weekend of events.

During All-Star media day on Jan. 23, Tkachuk downplayed any interest in discussing a feud between him and the Oilers stars present at All-Star Weekend and said he looked forward to playing with Draisaitl and Connor McDavid.

"Those guys in paticular are some of the best in the NHL, so to share a room with them and be on the ice with them, it's going to be awesome," he told reporters.

Draisaitl also played down a personal beef with Tkachuk, saying his comments may have been taken out of context.

MORE: All-Star Matthew Tkachuk's chippy controversy no surprise to Blues who watched him grow up

Former St. Louis Blues players praised both Matthew and brother Brady Tkachuk at All-Star Weekend as they shared stories about former NHLer Keith Tkachuk's sons as children; their father played nine seasons with the Blues.

“When you watch both of them, you see a lot of Keith in them, in where they go, get in front of the net, their passion for the game, how hard they play and the physical nature they play with,” Hall of Famer Chris Pronger said. “They certainly play the way their dad did.”

Current Blues forward David Perron said both younger Tkachuk's frequently chirped their father.

Arizona Coyotes head coach Rick Tocchet, who coached the Pacific division team for the weekend, said he would "stay out of it" when it comes to Draisaitl's apparent threat to leave the playing surface if he and Tkachuk are on at the same time.

"I mean, I can't see him doing that, but hey, if they do it, they do it," Tocchet told Sportsnet's Hockey Central radio show. "There's a lot of hate in Alberta, I get it. I actually love it. I think [the rivalry] is good for hockey. I love it."

Tkachuk ended up providing Draisaitl with a nifty assist for a goal during the All-Star Game's 3-on-3 tournament; the Oilers forward didn't seem to mind his rival's help.

The first rematch

As Kassian's suspension ended, he downplayed his previous comments about deliberately seeking Tkachuk out the next time the Oilers and Flames meet. With the two teams locked in a tight Pacific Division playoff race, Kassian admitted that earning wins from their two meetings on Jan. 29 and Feb. 1. was more important.

"We play Calgary two times in the next three games," Kassian told reporters on Jan. 28. "They're important points ... obviously the two teams don't like each other too much in this Battle of Alberta, but we're revving it up to get two points and we're treating it like a playoff game."

The rough-and-tumble forward coincidentally signed a four-year contract extension with Edmonton just before the first rematch. Even though Kassian backed away from his earlier comments about retribution, he clarified that if he had an opportunity to hit Tkachuk cleanly, he would do so — as any player would do to an opponent. Kassian said he thinks the rivalry is good for the sport as a whole.

"It's about time we get a little passion and fire and there's nothing wrong with that," he said.

Calgary won by a 4-3 score on Jan. 29 and Tkachuk did chip in an assist to help his teams' cause, but when the time came in the first period, he and Kassian did indeed drop the gloves.

It wasn't a long fight — Tkachuk fell to the ice just seconds after it started — but fans at Rogers Place in Edmonton loved it.

“I just didn’t like getting kind of pummelled at home like I did," Tkachuk said postgame, according to Postmedia's Wes Gilbertson. "A lot of people didn’t want me to do it, but I wanted to. It was a way for me to stick up for myself. It wasn’t anything to do with owing anybody. I was just doing it for myself."

According to TSN's Ryan Rishaug, Kassian thanked Tkachuk before their fight and thanked him for obliging him by dropping the gloves.

After Wednesday's game, it appears combatants appear satisfied with the end results, but the rivalry between the Oilers and Flames rages on. The teams play again on Saturday, Feb. 1 — this time in Calgary — and who knows what will happen then.


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