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‘Learning moment:’ Embarrassing loss to Flames was catalyst for Oilers’ playoff push

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EDMONTON — It was not the Edmonton Oilers’ finest hour, but a big loss to their Battle of Alberta archrivals might have been instrumental to their playoff push.

The Calgary Flames pumped nine goals past the Oilers, in what could have been Edmonton’s most embarrassing outing of the season, when the teams last met on March 26.

Yet the Oilers went on a 13-2-1 tear after that game to close the regular season, and then rallied to beat the Kings in seven games in the first round of the playoffs.

The Calgary blowout was a look-in-the-mirror moment. Their rivals might have actually done the Oilers a favour.

“It allowed the coaching staff to use it as a learning moment for our group,” said Oilers coach Jay Woodcroft.  “For us, it was an opportunity to focus our group on the type of game we needed to play in order to have some success. And here we are.”

The Flames and Oilers split the four-game regular-season series, but Calgary won both games on Saddledome ice, where the two teams will start Wednesday.

“We played them at different times in the season, and our season has been a little different than most years,” said Oilers winger Zach Hyman, who scored twice and added a couple of helpers in the series win over Los Angeles. “We were a different team earlier on in the year. And, later on in the year, they caught us a couple of times. But I think they helped us grow as a team, to face adversity.”

Winger Zack Kassian, who had a goal and an assist in the first round, admitted that there were some red faces in Oilers jerseys after the nine-goal bonanza at the Saddledome.

“Whenever you get spanked, no matter who it’s against, you want to have a bounce-back game,” he said. “We got embarrassed, and we bounced back. I think we showed perseverance all year; if we had a bad game, we came back with an even stronger effort.”

The 9-5 score from March 26 was a throwback to the glory days of the Battle of Alberta of the 1980s and early 1990s, when the likes of Gretzky, Kurri, Messier, McDonald, Fleury and MacInnis used to fill the scoresheets.

Hyman suggested several times during his time at the podium that this series, in contrast, would be tight-checking and a battle of wills. In fact, playing against a Kings team that liked to clog up the neutral zone should prepare the Oilers well for the Flames’ big defensive unit.

“We learned a lot from the L.A. series,” Hyman said. “We understood where we had the most success. When we got caught and were turning the puck over in the neutral zone, that’s when we were having trouble.”

Hyman said the Oilers would need to get pucks deep, get into the corners and work the cycle despite the physicality the Flames will bring to the games. He said the Oilers will need to “play heavy.”

“It’s different than the regular season, it doesn’t matter what happened in the regular season or what the record was… the playoffs are a different game. It’s a different style of play. It’s tighter, it’s harder to play, there’s more emotion.”

To illustrate Hyman’s point, the Oilers swept the Winnipeg Jets over the course of the regular season in 2020-21, only to be swept by the Jets in the first round of the playoffs.

“I don’t read too much into the regular season, to be honest,” Kassian said. “As you guys can see, the hockey is completely different than it was in the regular season. There’s so much more going on.”

Oilers 55-goal man Leon Draisaitl, who is labouring through a lower-body injury suffered in a Game 6 scrum in L.A., was not on the ice for practice Tuesday.

Also absent were forwards Evander Kane and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. Woodcroft was vague when it came to accounting for their absences and talked about the players who were there, rather than addressing the big names who were away.

“I thought we had a really good practice today. I thought some of the people who might not be in the everyday lineup provided a little bit of a boost and a little energy… We’re well-prepared heading into Game 1.”

Oilers general manager Ken Holland said on Edmonton radio station 630 CHED that Draisaitl, Kane and Nugent-Hopkins would play Wednesday.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 17, 2022.

Steven Sandor, The Canadian Press

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Alberta

‘Short-term pain’: Group of Alberta lawyers escalate job action over legal aid cases

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By Bill Graveland in Calgary

Alberta criminal defence lawyers are taking another step in their dispute with the provincial government over the amount of compensation paid by Legal Aid Alberta.

Organizations representing lawyers in Edmonton, Calgary, Red Deer and southern Alberta began job action Aug. 8 by refusing to accept certain bail and duty counsel files from legal aid.

The lawyers also began refusing certificates for new cases for the most serious criminal charges, including sexual offences, firearms-related crimes and homicides.

Beginning Monday, they say all services will be withdrawn.

“We’re going to stop taking all certificates. That will include some our prior job actions still allowed us to take certificates for people who are already existing clients and there will be a very, very limited set of circumstances now where our members will do that,” said Kelsey Sitar, vice-president of the Criminal Defence Lawyers Association in Calgary.

“The default will be: ‘We are just not taking any new work from legal aid until the problem is fixed.'”

Sitar made her comments at a rally in front of the Calgary Courts Centre on Friday that drew about 50 criminal defence lawyers.

A table with a sign reading “Save Legal Aid” offered bake goods for sale. Lawyers carried signs reading “Access 2 Justice Must be Equal.” Another read: “This sign is too small to fit my outrage.”

“This is drastic. I mean, what we were doing up until now is something I know has happened in Ontario before, it did not last long, frankly,” Sitar said.

“I can tell you that none of us want to be out here. We all want to be in there doing our jobs.”

Justice Minister Tyler Shandro has said nothing is going to be done until a review of the Legal Aid Alberta administrative system is complete, which is scheduled for next month.

He said any budget changes for legal aid wouldn’t happen until next year.

Sitar said the ministry chose to undertake “an incomplete and, frankly, useless review” at a time when the governing United Conservative Party is about to go through a leadership change.

“So we have to act now and they need to respond now,” she said.

Sitar said she understands the people being affected the most by the job action will be people with lower incomes who need the services to afford legal representation.

“It’s short-term pain right now,” she said. “It’s really unfortunate, but I can tell you that most of the people I’ve talked to on the street who are finding themselves caught up in this understand and are grateful that we’re doing it.”

Alberta Opposition NDP Leader Rachel Notley said the problem has been growing over the last three years. She said when her party was in power, it committed to additional funding for Legal Aid, but the UCP government backtracked.

“We simply cannot be asking the Legal Aid bar to be doing what we are asking them to do at the rate that we are asking them to do it,” she told reporters.

“We have the lowest funding for Legal Aid in the country. What that means is that we don’t have equal access to justice. It undermines the integrity of our justice system and, overall, it undermines our ability to build a sense of community safety, community security and an overall respect for the rule of law — all of which are important to community health and economic growth.

“It sounds like a niche issue, but it’s not. It actually has knock-off effects to very, very important issues that affect all of us. So, the government needs to come to the table and negotiate decently with these lawyers.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 23, 2022.

— With files from Colette Derworiz in Calgary.

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Alberta

‘Kind of like carnies’: International balloon festival returns to High River, Alta.

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By Bill Graveland in High River, Alberta

The windswept prairie east of the Rocky Mountains seems an unlikely spot for a hot-air balloon festival, but the town of High River, Alta., is celebrating the event’s 10th year.

More than 20 brightly coloured balloons — including a pink elephant, a black and yellow bee and the purple and yellow Eye of Ra, named after the Egyptian sun god — took advantage of a lull in the prevailing wind this week to get some up-in-the-air time to mark the opening of the Heritage Inn International Balloon Festival.

“We get about 50 per cent of our flights off. Weather impacts us everywhere,” said event director Jamie Kinghorn, who is also a town councillor.

“This is our 10th. We started in 2013 partly because of the flood that happened. I’d been to a number of balloon events and thought this might lift the spirits of the folks in town.”

The town of 12,000 just south of Calgary gained an international profile in 2013 when flooding in parts of southern Alberta caused billions of dollars in damage.

High River was one of the hardest-hit communities. Entire neighbourhoods were under water for weeks.

“I called in a bunch of friends from the balloon community and they knew what happened, so 20 of them came into High River and we put on a balloon festival that was actually amazing for the community,” Kinghorn said.

“That was sort of the first major thing toward recovery after the flood and we’ve been doing it every year since at the end of September.”

Kinghorn said the festival is a boon to local tourism and there’s not a hotel room to be had in town.

He had his first hot air balloon over the city of Calgary in 1988. A year later he was a balloon pilot.

There are 23 balloons participating this year, including some from the United States, Belgium and the United Kingdom.

Kinghorn said it’s a pretty small community.

“We tend to meet at various events. We tend to travel. We’re kind of like carnies to some extent,” he said with a laugh.

“We travel around to different cities to different balloon events.”

Alan Davidson, who has been involved in the sport since 1977, is one of the volunteers.

He said those who get involved tend to stick with it.

“The amazing thing is that there are still seven or eight of the people I was ballooning with in the ’70s and early ’80s who are still here at this event,” said Davidson. “They’ve been working with balloons for over 40 years.”

Kinghorn, who is the owner and pilot of the Eye of Ra, was the first balloon in the air Thursday morning after a Wednesday evening flight was cancelled due to the wind.

“My God am I glad we got this off,” he said as the flight came to an end.

The festival runs through Sunday.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 23, 2022.

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september, 2022

tue27sep10:00 am4:00 pmCACPC Annual SHRED Event10:00 am - 4:00 pm MST The Central Alberta Crime Prevention Centre, 4311-49 Ave Event Organized By: The Central Alberta Crime Prevention Centre

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