When it comes to hockey, Mark Spector has seen it all.
As a Edmonton Oilers beat reporter during the 1980s, Spector witnessed some of the greatest moments in Oilers history. He watched as players like Wayne Gretzky, Mark Messier and Jari Kurri led the Oilers to four Stanley Cups in five years.
He also witnessed what many consider to be the golden era of one of the fiercest rivalries in the NHL, between the Edmonton Oilers and the Calgary Flames.
It is that rivalry that Spector decided to focus on in his new book The Battle of Alberta: the Historic Rivalry Between the Edmonton Oilers and Calgary Flames.
“When you look back historically, this was a rivalry that produced — out of two smaller centres in the National Hockey League — eight consecutive Stanley Cup finalists between 1983 and 1990,” said Spector, who will be at the Chapters in Red Deer this Saturday to sign copies of the book.
“If you go back into the great rivalries of hockey, the Montreal-Quebec, Montreal-Boston, or Pittsburgh-Philly or any of those real good rivalries, you’d be hard pressed to find one that produced that many consecutive Stanley Cup teams.”
Spector’s book details the golden era of that rivalry. He goes behind the scenes and digs into what happened both on and off the ice during the Battle of Alberta between ‘83 and ‘91.
“Here’s what I know about sports and sports writing – lots of interesting things happen along the way. The better and more interesting the games, the better the tales are, the more things go on behind the scenes. But what you also know is there’s lots of stuff they don’t tell you at the time,” Spector said, referring to some of the things that may have happened that the teams didn’t want the media to know about, such as rules that may have been broken or words that were exchanged on the ice.
“The Statute of Limitations is up on all of these stories and I think I’ve found a lot of times where guys sort of said, ‘Okay well here’s what I was really thinking back then’.”
Spector has been paying attention to the Battle of Alberta since it started. Growing up in Edmonton, he said he can recall a time when the Edmonton Oilers used to play the Calgary Cowboys in the World Hockey Association before the Oilers moved over to the NHL in 1979, when Spector was 13-years-old.
The next year the Atlanta Flames relocated to Calgary and the rest, as they say, is history.
“From that point on those teams built in to the great rivalry. Vancouver wasn’t very good and L.A. wasn’t very good. They became the two rivals in the Smythe Division,” said the St. Albert resident, who now works as a columnist and TV analyst for Sportsnet.ca.
But it wasn’t until 1985 that Spector covered his first Oilers-Flames game, from the press box of what was then Northlands Coliseum.
At that point, he was working as the sports editor at The Gateway, which was the University of Alberta’s student newspaper.
“I think they gave you $300-400 a month to be the sports editor at The Gateway. But, the old PR director for the Edmonton Oilers, his name was Bill Tuele, he always bestowed upon the university newspaper editor and the CJSR radio guy (that’s the university radio station), each got a season pass as accredited media for the Edmonton Oilers,” he said.
So not only did Spector have a chance to get up into the press box and meet all of the, “Important hockey writers of the day,” he said, but he also got the chance to see some great hockey every single night.
“You got to go to the rink and watch Gretzky play right in his prime every night so I’d have given my paltry Gateway salary for that pass,” he said.
Two years later, the familiarity he gained with the Edmonton Journal’s sports writers during his time with the Gateway helped him land a job at the Journal.
When asked about what’s changed in the rivalry between the Flames and Oilers today, Spector said part of it is the fact that hockey is no longer as rough as it used to be.
“One thing that all of that may have lent to the meeting was a ton of emotion. Fans got more emotional, referees were busier, the players were more emotional, coaches were yelling and screaming. There was just a higher level of the unplanned back in those days and that made for good storytelling,” he said.
Spector will be at Chapters at 2 p.m. this Saturday afternoon to sign copies of The Battle of Alberta.