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History of violence: Matthew Tkachuk-Zack Kassian feud

The Matthew Tkachuk - Zack Kassian feud resumes on Wednesday (and then again on Saturday). That bubbling bitterness inspired retrospectives about “The Battle of Alberta,” but Tkachuk vs. Kassian is an entertaining history lesson on its own.

This post aims to summarize that history, which goes back a little further than some might remember.

Tkachuk - Kassian feud flares up in 2018

Amusingly, history already repeated itself with Kassian and Tkachuk. After all, the two basically went through a dress rehearsal of this current battle.

Kassian and Tkachuk went through similar beats (literally and figuratively) during the Flames’ 4-2 win over the Oilers on Nov. 17, 2018.

  • Tkachuk was involved in heavy-hitting that inspired additional violence. Leon Draisaitl lit Tkachuk up the hardest, in that case.
  • Kassian urged Tkachuk to fight. Tkachuk didn’t want to but (wait for it) Kassian forced the issue, anyway.
  • The Flames profited in Kassian taking multiple penalties.

Sound familiar? Enjoy footage of the prequel:

Much like this latest time, Tkachuk essentially shrugged his shoulders when asked about avoiding a fight with Kassian.

“Yeah,” Tkachuk said in Nov. 2018, if you can tell the difference. “Wasn’t going to fight that guy. Probably wouldn’t have been the smart thing at the time.”

In that November 2018 case, the Tkachuk - Kassian violence ranked as arguably a subplot in a larger battle (of Alberta). The stakes eventually heightened, as you know.

Kassian - Tkachuk feud hits a new peak

The brawl and fallout that dropped jaws around the hockey world took place on Jan. 11. This Sportsnet video captures the chaos:

Consider this the abridged version of the events:

  • Tkachuk clobbered Kassian with some big hits, which Kassian argued were “predatory.” Officials didn’t penalize Tkachuk, and Tkachuk didn’t receive supplemental discipline.
  • Kassian snapped and went after Tkachuk, who didn’t consent to a fight.
  • The Flames ended up capitalizing on the power play advantages stemming from Kassian blowing a gasket, scoring the game-winning goal.
  • Kassian received a two-game suspension for his actions.

Trash talk, Part I

Kassian and Tkachuk traded barbs right after the Flames’ win. Kassian called Tkachuk a “young punk” and other worse p-words. Tkachuk said if Kassian didn’t want to get hit, he should “stay off the tracks” and then twisted the knife by score-boarding Kassian with: “we’ll take the power play, we’ll take the game-winner, and we’ll move on to first place.”

Trash talk II: Chirp Harder

People criticize post-game interviews for being cliche-heavy, but they’re important because, in many cases, you get a rare natural reaction before cooler heads prevailed. Delightfully, Kassian still provided bulletin board (and billboard) material even after he had time to settle down.

Following word of his two-game suspension, Kassian claimed that Tkachuk “messed with the wrong guy.”

Kassian also set the stage for future intrigue, ominously stating that he observed explanations for Tkachuk’s hits being legal and “put that in the memory bank.”

The best thing to come from the Tkachuk Kassian feud

The NHL schedule fell incredibly well here, as the Flames and Oilers meet right as Kassian’s suspension ended. Thanks to the All-Star break, people have had plenty of time to hype things up, and to analyze Draisaitl bad-mouthing Tkachuk at said All-Star Game.

That mix of a quick turnaround, yet still weeks between games, also opened up time for something wonderful to happen. What began as a fun bit of trolling with Calgary fans trying to put up a Tkachuk billboard in Edmonton ended up being an enormous victory for various charities.

I’d argue it’s the best thing to come from the rivalry, even if the billboards don’t actually feature Tkachuk’s sneering face.

Previewing the next chapters in the Kassian - Tkachuk feud

So, how will things play out for Wednesday’s game in Edmonton and Saturday’s rematch in Calgary?

There are quite a few key factors to consider:

  • Plenty of eyes will be on these games, possibly limiting carnage. As you might expect, the NHL is sending a contingent of Player Safety reps and other experienced officials.
  • Kassian has -- mostly -- said all the right things about keeping a cool head. He’s said that “this isn’t the ‘80s” and pointed to the standings. Then again, he did make those earlier remarks about noting what type of hits will be in his “memory bank.”
  • Tkachuk has shown repeatedly that he’s not interesting in fighting Kassian. The hockey math makes sense, after all, since Tkachuk is a star and Kassian is a role player.
  • These two teams are tight in the standings, and the Pacific Division is as volatile as this feud.

As you can see, very little separates the Pacific’s top five teams. So far, Tkachuk has successfully baited Kassian, and it’s clear Kassian has been spoken to. Two head-to-head games could be pivotal, particularly if both games end in regulation.

In other words, that violent history probably won’t repeat itself -- not yet, and not to the same degree.

That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t get hyped for the next two chapters in “The Battle of Alberta, though.” Kassian said it well:

“ ... It’s good for the game,” Kassian said, via Sportsnet’s Mark Spector. “It’s about time we got a little passion and fire.”

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.