In the NHL, things are trending in two very different directions between the Battle of Alberta combatants.
This year, the Calgary Flames are one of the hottest teams in the league, while the Edmonton Oilers are fighting for their playoff lives.
Over the past three decades, the Oilers and Flames have had varying degrees of NHL success.
The Oilers may have more Stanley Cup rings and also the most recent win, while the Flames were cup champs back in 1989 and in the Game 7 of the final as recently 2004 – the Oilers were in Game 7 of the big dance in 2006.
Some of their more recent history runs parallel, yet the bitter divide between the two groups of fans is evident in one place in particular.
Red Deer is one of the only cities in North America to have two professional sports teams in the same league, that happen to be almost exactly the same distance apart. From the Centrium in Red Deer to Calgary’s Saddledome is 144 kilometres, while the journey north to Edmonton’s Rogers Place is 157 kilometres.
That divide is so well known in the sports community and it has long piqued the interest of Blair Cipywnyk, an Edmonton native.
Cipywnyk, a 26-year-old graduate student at Brock University in St. Catharines, Ont., is undertaking the first study of its kind, trying to discover what drives hockey fans in Red Deer in one direction or another.
“The literature says from past studies that a big reason why people choose the team they cheer for, is they just cheer for the team that’s closer. So the big thing is how they choose the team, and how they maintain it,” said Cipywnyk.
“With (Red Deer) in the middle, they are just as close to Oilers fans, as they are to Flames fans. You are just as exposed to the rival fans, as the main fans. We’re wondering how they maintain it. Especially because both teams have similar histories.”
He hopes that his research project will help to better understand the behaviours and feelings of hockey fans.
Growing up in Edmonton, Cipywnyk was naturally an Oilers fan, but his parents also had a place at Sylvan Lake, so he understands both fan perspectives.
In his study so far, he has talked with about half the subjects needed to put together a complete picture of the fan situation in Red Deer. There are some intriguing results so far.
“The biggest surprise to me is that Flames fans don’t really care about the Oilers and Oilers fans don’t really care about the Flames,” he said.
“When the two teams play, it’s a heated rivalry. A lot of people are saying the rivalry has died out because they haven’t had a lot of success (recently). It’s almost like they don’t care about each other until they meet. Which is surprising.”
Although there are similar cases for some cities, like Hamilton, Ont. being relatively near the midpoint of Buffalo and Toronto. No place is quite like Red Deer. There are some studies in New York about how people became Rangers or Islanders fans, or in Chicago, where baseball fans support either the Cubs or White Sox – still none like his.
He also indicated that most often fans pick a team because of geography, which is why the study is so unique. He added that fans also support teams because of their parents and media exposure.
“My study is unique in that Red Deer is exactly halfway. I’ve had people come to me from Ponoka and they’ve wanted to participate,” he said.
“Unfortunately, Ponoka is closer to Edmonton and (they’re) an Oilers fan… for academic reasons, you’re close to Edmonton so it gets rid of the cool novelty. There hasn’t really been another study with the geography like this.”
For any Red Deer residents who are Oilers or Flames fans and wish to participate in the study, contact Blair Cipywnyk at firstname.lastname@example.org.