Oil Kings’ Griffin Reinhart, Keegan Lowe relishing reviving — and revisiting — Battle of Alberta

Bring on the spotlight. Go right ahead and project all that Calgary vs. Edmonton history on to teenagers, including the ones with famous hockey names.

It might seem like it's burdening Edmonton Oil Kings stars Keegan Lowe and Griffin Reinhart — especially this week — to put the Hitmen-Oil Kings WHL Eastern Conference final into both past and present context. Thanks to the delayed start to the NHL season, the series is beginning while both the Calgary Flames and Edmonton Oilers are winding down respective winters of discontent. At the same time, though, the Battle of Alberta "is there even when it isn't there." So any added emphasis on the junior series is welcomed.

"For the kids like us who play underneath the Oilers in Edmonton, it's more exciting than distracting, getting even more attention and stuff like that," Lowe says when asked about the added attention for the WHL series, which begins Thursday at Rexall Place. "We would have liked for the Oilers to do better, but after their season's done, we're the only playoff hockey in Edmonton if we're fortunate enough to still be playing.

"Our team last year was pretty good with it [being the only game in town once NHL regular season ended]," adds the Caroline Hurricanes draft pick, whose father Kevin Lowe, of course, is president of the Oilers. "As much as we want to see the Oilers doing better, it's excitement for us."

[Kelly Friesen: WHL Eastern Conference final preview]

Not one player on either team was alive during the last Flames-Oilers playoff series in 1991, which Esa Tikkanen decided with a Game 7 overtime goal in response to Theo Fleury's steal-score-celly strike that forced a deciding game.

That matchup was the end of an era where the Flames and Oilers met five times in nine seasons by dint of being successful teams and the NHL's old four-division playoff format. From 1983 to '90, either the Oilers (six times) or the Flames (twice) went to the Stanley Cup final each season.

Reinhart notes the sport has changed radically since his father, Paul Reinhart, was a star defenceman with the Flames in the 1980s. It's changed far too much for that to ever happen again. But the New York Islanders first-round pick appreciates what this series means.

"He [Paul Reinhart] has told me a couple stories," says the middle of the three active Reinharts, the 6-foot-4 defenceman in between brothers Max and Sam. "A lot in the game has changed since then, including the fans.

I've been in the league, junior, long enough and played against Calgary enough times to know it's going to live up to expectations," Griffin Reinhart adds. "Being around Edmonton people, they always have a competition with Calgary. And with the new Oil Kings franchise, they've always been either at the bottom or the top at the opposite time as Calgary. To play against them when we're both at the top is going to be huge."

As a NHL draft prospect 2011, Keegan Lowe decided it would be better for him to make his way in another organization than the Oilers. The two-way defenceman was taken in the third round by the Carolina Hurricanes, one spot before the Oilers drafted his Oil Kings teammate, centre Travis Ewanyk. At this juncture, Lowe is more than eager to tap into his father's experience.

"Whenever he [Kevin Lowe] telling stories about games, more often than not they're from the Calgary-Edmonton games," the 20-year-old Lowe says. "When there's vintage games on the NHL Network, lots of times they are Calgary-Edmonton games. Those are pretty exciting stories to hear about. He definitely helps out a lot, going into stuff like this."

The Oil Kings are considered the favourite although Calgary won 4-of-6 during a season series that concluded on April 18. Reinhart, who last week saw his older brother Max Reinhart score his first NHL goal for the Calgary Flames against the Oilers at Rexcall Place ("I know my brother was happy to get it in front of us," he says) says discipline will be the series' wild card.

"We're both up near the top in penalty minutes, we need to keep those down," he says. oth teams have tremendous specialty teams, so that's going to be huge and we need to stay out of the box."

One dangling carrot for the only two WHL teams who are owned by NHL franchises is the vision of having their logo at centre ice. The big league season ends April 27, leaving enough of a window to perform a paint job before the WHL championship begins. That happened last spring when the Oil Kings were on their way to the Ed Chynoweth Cup. Lowe's recall of that is a reminder of how young players are still grateful for the attention and haven't become jaded.

"We were in Moose Jaw for games 3 and 4 and the picture got out, that the Oilers had put in our logo," Lowe says. "It gave us a boost coming back for Game 5 of the conference finals to skate out with our logo at centre ice. It was definitely cool for us, hopefully if we get that far we get the same treat again."

Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet. Please address any questions, comments or concerns to btnblog@yahoo.ca.

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