Raging Rivalries in the Canadian Hockey League

Originally published in Prospects Hockey in 2006

By Lucas Aykroyd

What’s even more fun than cheering for your favourite CHL team? Often the answer is: “Booing our hated divisional rivals!” Rivalries inevitably blossom when you’re facing another club six times a year in many cases. In those grudge matches, teams often discover what kind of character they possess, and will go to any lengths to win. Let’s take a closer look at some of the CHL’s best feuds.

OHL: Guelph Storm vs. London Knights

After former NHLer Dave Barr was hired by the Guelph Storm in July 2003, this highly competitive coach and GM learned quickly about the importance of beating the London Knights. Things got particularly interesting between these two Midwest Division foes from 2003-04 onward.

“My first year here, London set a record for OHL points with 110, and we were right behind them with 103,” Barr recalled. “We met in the Western Conference finals, and that was a tremendous series. We won it in Game Seven and moved on to win the league and play in the Memorial Cup. Last year, London had one of those Dream Team-type years and set another points record [120]. But we were very competitive with the Knights all year, despite being in a rebuilding phase, and we played them to a 0-0 tie in the game where they set the record for the longest undefeated streak.”

World Junior gold medalists like Guelph’s Ryan Parent and London’s David Bolland are showing leadership this year. How will things shake out if these clubs meet for the third consecutive season in the playoffs?

“We have some strengths they don’t have, and they have some strengths we don’t have,” said Barr. “We match up quite well. Goaltending is very good on both teams. Our defence is maybe a bit more experienced than theirs is. They have maybe two or three very high-end forwards, where we might have one or two. If we do play them, I suspect it’ll be a six- or seven-game series.”

OHL: Oshawa Generals vs. Peterborough Petes

With four Memorial Cups, 12 OHL championships, and more than 150 NHL graduates from Bobby Orr to Eric Lindros, the Oshawa Generals take justifiable pride in their history. But the Peterborough Petes, winners of the 1979 Memorial Cup and eight OHL titles, have also produced more than 150 NHLers, including the likes of Bob Gainey and Steve Yzerman.

Recently, Peterborough Examiner editor Ed Arnold upped the ante by writing a book about his native city entitled Hockey Town: Life Before the Pros.

“When the league had fewer teams, the two teams played more often, but the real intensity comes within the communities,” said Arnold. “The children grow up playing against each other in all-star games for most sports from hockey to baseball, lacrosse and soccer. Players who arrive in Peterborough to play for the Petes taste it immediately.”

It doesn’t matter what decade you’re talking about. “There were some heated battles,” said Toronto enforcer Tie Domi of his 1986-89 stint with Peterborough. “I don’t think there was a person in the building that liked me when we went to Oshawa! That made it that much more fun.”

“It was easy to get up for those games because there was such an emotional drive behind them,” said Vancouver’s Bryan Allen, who played defence for Oshawa from 1996 to 1999. “Between the two teams, it was a pride thing. The rivalry always was there and always will be there.”

Occasionally, emotions spill over. The Evans brothers (Paul, Mark, Doug, and Kevin) were despised in Oshawa when they played for Peterborough in the 70’s and 80’s. On one occasion Doug, a future 355-game NHLer, was involved in a pre-game brawl where the police intervened. In 1997, Oshawa coach Bill Stewart ordered his players not to shake hands with the Petes after eliminating them from the playoffs.

Still, the two blue-collar communities maintain respect for each other. Some 1,500 Peterborough workers are employed at the General Motors plant in Oshawa, just 45 minutes away by car. Peterborough fans are thrilled by the success of Eric Staal with Carolina this season, while their Oshawa counterparts relish the progress of Nathan Horton with Florida.

This may be one of hockey’s oldest rivalries, but it never gets old.

QMJHL: Cape Breton Screaming Eagles vs. Halifax Mooseheads

Nova Scotian pride is on the line every time these two clubs meet. The current junior rivalry dates back to Cape Breton’s 1997 entry into the QMJHL, with the Mooseheads joining in 1994. But Sydney, the home of the Screaming Eagles, has battled Halifax for provincial hockey supremacy since the early 1900’s, when pro clubs like the Sydney Millionaires and Halifax Crescents/Wanderers chased the Stanley Cup.

With both cities still vying for their first-ever Memorial Cup, the Cape Breton-Halifax feud is big. In 2002, the Screaming Eagles knocked off Halifax in six games in the second round. The Mooseheads got their revenge in 2003 by eliminating Cape Breton in four straight, including a QMJHL playoff record shutout streak of 211:36 by Halifax goalie Guillaume Lavallee through the first three and a half games.

Each year, according to the terms of a pre-series bet, the mayor of the losing city was obliged to raise the victor’s flag, wear the other team’s sweater, host a reception for the winning city council and hockey organization, and do community service in the other municipality.

Both sides are respectable this season, and either could wind up dancing a victory jig come playoff time.

WHL: Calgary Hitmen vs. Red Deer Rebels

In the 1980’s, the “Battle of Alberta” referred to the feud between two perennial Stanley Cup contenders, the Edmonton Oilers and Calgary Flames. But in the 1990’s, with those NHL teams struggling, the scene was set for a new Battle of Alberta between a pair of WHL expansion franchises.

Not surprisingly, both teams had mediocre early records, as the Rebels kicked off operations in 1992 and the Hitmen in 1995. But Calgary gained the early bragging rights with three straight Central Division titles from 1998 to 2000. 1999 marked the peak of major junior hockey in Alberta’s biggest city so far, as Calgary marched to the WHL crown, including a first-round sweep of the Rebels, and then lost 7-6 in overtime to the Ottawa 67’s in the Memorial Cup championship game.

Yet 1999 was also a turning point in Red Deer hockey history. When Brent Sutter became the coach, GM, and owner of the Rebels that year, the gritty former NHLer brought the same sense of purpose he’s recently displayed as a two-time gold medal-winning bench boss at the World Juniors. Red Deer beat Calgary in the playoffs in 2001, 2003, and 2004. In 2001, the Rebels captured the Memorial Cup on the strength of Doug Lynch’s OT winner against the Val-D’Or Foreurs, and they made it to the WHL finals in 2002 and 2003.

A January 25, 2005 meeting between Red Deer and Calgary summed up the intensity of this rivalry. Ryan Getzlaf and Andrew Ladd of the Hitmen and Dion Phaneuf and Colin Fraser of the Rebels had been teammates with Canada at the World Juniors earlier that month, winning gold together in North Dakota. But when the puck dropped here for the opening faceoff, so did Phaneuf and Ladd’s gloves. After the next draw, Fraser and Getzlaf fought. Later, Phaneuf knocked Getzlaf out of the game with a concussion-inducing hit.

Ryan White, then a Hitmen rookie, recognized how much it meant to beat the team from up Highway 2. “It’s only my first year here, but a lot of the guys don’t want to be finishing behind Red Deer,” the 17-year-old centre told the Calgary Herald. “It’s a rivalry in every sense–we don’t want to finish behind Red Deer, we don’t want to lose to Red Deer.”

Even though the rebuilding Rebels have fallen behind this year, you can expect this Battle of Alberta to rage on into the future.

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