One team will lose on the ice but the Battle of Alberta will end up being a big win for the entire province, says a top chamber official.
As the Edmonton Oilers and Calgary Flames square off in the NHL playoffs for the first time in 31 years, the economic boost will be felt across Alberta, says the president and CEO of the Alberta Chambers of Commerce.
"The impacts of this on the economy can’t be overstated. This rivalry has always created a huge following and great interest and therefore boosted spending," said Ken Kobly, pointing out many establishments are still trying to recover from COVID-19 related shutdowns. "The battle of Alberta will create substantial opportunities particularly for the hospitality and lodging sector, as well as retail.”
Pubs and bars in the geographical middle of the provincial rivalry are pumped about the series.
"We have seen an increase in sales during the playoffs, but with the Battle of Alberta it will be even better," said Pilar Vasquez, manager of Chillabongs Sports Bar in Red Deer.
After COVID-19-related lockdowns over the past two years, the bar has seen a boost in sales during the playoffs and will bring in extra staff for playoff games.
Vasquez says the bar is split evenly between Flames and Oilers fans and they often sit together in the 150-seat establishment.
"We have pretty good clientele." said Vasquez. "I've seen tables with two jerseys on one side and two different jerseys on the other. We'll be rooting for both teams.”
Another Red Deer bar manager says the series couldn't have come at a better time.
"We're pretty excited to have the Battle of Alberta back," said Angela Swain, manager of Original Joe's, adding they are preparing for a 20 per cent increase in business.
When asked which team patrons support, she said, adding that while the rivalry is intense, there are no plans to separate fans inside the bar. "There are a lot more Flames fans, to be honest. But it's a pretty healthy competition. People can sit where they want."
At the East 40th Pub in southeast Red Deer, there is little doubt who patrons support.
"It’s ‘Go Oilers Go’ here,” said manager Tracy Scott. “We've always been that way. We're closer to Calgary but we cheer for the Oilers because the Oilers rock.”
She added, "If Flames fans show up, we'll put them on the other side of the bar."
East 40th customer and diehard Oilers fan Michael Riopel, 76, vividly recalls the Battles of Alberta during the 1980s and early 1990s.
"Back then there used to be a rope between Calgary fans and Edmonton fans in the pubs." He didn't know if fans will need to be physically separated in 2022 but added, "It will be exciting."
The owner of an Edmonton sports bar that has been around since the original Battles of Alberta says the matchup is a financial godsend.
"The Oilers really stepped up and did us a big favour by beating L.A.," said Glenn Juhnke, owner of Uncle Glenn's Eatery & Sports Pub. "We were hit hard by COVID and facing Calgary is a big boost for business. It will really fire up the crowd.
"Every single fan in here is an Oilers fan. If a Flames fans show up, we'll try to fit them in," he said.
At The Garage Bar in Calgary, the atmosphere is more receptive to anyone supporting the northern rivals.
"We welcome all fans here," said Charlie Mendelman, adding the series is "great for us and great for Alberta."
He says business picked up during the first round and expectations are the bar will be full for series two against the Oilers.
"People are pumped for this," said Mendelman.
Whoever wins the series, the chamber boss urges all fans to get behind the victorious team.
Kobly said, “As we progress in to the semi-finals after this round, the economic impact will be further extended as all Albertans hopefully rally around the successful team."
Are you cheering for the Oilers? Is it Flames all the way? Share your fan photos at the Alberta Prime Times Facebook page. We'll post how the province is celebrating the Battle of Alberta!