Top Ten Rivalries In Canadian Sport

Canada is a sports nation, and as such loves its rivalries with as much passion and excitement as anywhere in the world! With many sports are prominent in Canada such as Hockey, Soccer and Football, and numerous factors go into making each rivalry special. It was difficult to pick just ten rivalries, but without further ado, here are ten of the best rivalries in Canada, with some recent moments in each of them to showcase what makes them special!


10. Toronto Maple Leafs vs Ottawa Senators

We start off with a rivalry between Canada’s capital, and Canada’s largest city, Ottawa Senators versus Toronto Maple Leafs – The Battle of Ontario! As the name suggests, the two teams are in close proximity to each other, with games in Ottawa especially having a fun 50/50-ish split amongst the fans which always makes the game fun!

Jason Spezza, Toronto Maple Leafs and Nick Paul, Ottawa Senators

The teams play in the same division, and as such playoff matchups are always a possibility, especially in the early 2000s. The two Ontario rivals met in the playoffs four times in five seasons from 2000-2004, and while Toronto one all four matchups, Ottawa came close in 2002 and 2004, forcing Game Seven both times. After going through a slow rebuild, Ottawa now looks primed to take the next step in the NHL, and with the Leafs being perennial playoff makers, hopefully, it’s not long before these two meet again at that stage!

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Notable recent flashpoint; In the shortened 2021 season, the two teams’ expectations couldn’t be any different. Toronto was expected to compete in the Stanley Cup, and Ottawa was expected to compete in the Draft lottery. The two sides met on February 15th and things were going as expected as Toronto held a 5-1 lead in the second period. But in a twist that no one saw coming, Ottawa struck to make it 5-5 going into overtime, and when Evgenii Dadonov scored the game-winner in overtime, it marked the first time Ottawa had come from a four-goal deficit to win a game in franchise history, fully encapsulating the unpredictable nature that comes with any rivalry game, no matter the perceived quality gulf. 

9. Calgary Flames vs Vancouver Canucks

Both of these two teams have closer geographical rivals in the form of Edmonton and Seattle, but make no mistake, these two teams don’t like each other. There is an inter-provincial element to this rivalry, with British Columbia vs Alberta being a friendly rivalry out west which often plays out on the ice between each province’s biggest city. Since 1981, the two teams have been almost inseparable, being in the same division now for over forty years, and often getting in each other’s way in the playoffs.

Calgary vs Vancouver in the 2021/22 NHL season (Bob Frid-USA TODAY Sports)

The two clubs have met in the playoffs seven times and three times, the series has had to be decided in a game seven overtime period. Only the St Louis Blues and Dallas Stars/Minnesota Northstars have played in more Game Seven overtimes. The Flames have won five of the seven matchups, but a good omen for Vancouver is that every time they beat Calgary in the playoffs, they have reached the Stanley Cup final! Away from the playoffs, the individual scoring battle in the 2000s between Calgary’s Jerome Iginla and Vancouver’s Markus Näslund was a notable highlight of the rivalry that captured the imagination of both fan bases in that era.

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Notable recent flashpoint; By 2014, the rivalry was considered to have cooled down from its peaks in the nineties and naughties, but then came head coaches John Tortorella (Vancouver) and Bob Hartley (Calgary). The two teams met in Vancouver on January 18th, 2014 and to start the game, both Tortorella and Hartley started the game with their fourth lines and as a result, all ten skaters paired up and started fighting! Whilst that was happening, Tortorella was constantly berating Hartley and getting in his face as much as possible. There were eight ejections, and then at the first intermission, Tortorella and Hartley were at it again and had to be separated by their own players!

8. Laval Rouge et Or vs Montreal Carabins

In 1995, the Quebec Nordiques relocated to Colorado and after sixteen years, it looked as if we no longer had a Battle of Quebec to look forward to. While it may not be the National Hockey League, the rivalry is alive and well, with Quebec City’s University of Laval forming a football team in 1996, and the University of Montreal Carabins soon joining them in 2002. Since then both teams have more or less dominated the Canadian college landscape.

Laval and Montreal face off against each other in the RSEQ (Université Laval)

Since 2004, the two sides have met in the RSEQ conference final, the Dunsmore Cup final twelve times with Laval holding an eight-four lead, although Montreal has won four of the last seven, showing how tight the fixture has particularly become regularly. Beyond the RSEQ, the two sides have combined for fifteen Vanier Cup appearances and eleven Vanier Cup wins, (although Laval has dominated with ten of those wins). Montreal and Laval are two college football powerhouses, and almost always have to go through each other to reach the national semi-finals. The competitive nature and large crowds that this fixture attracts have gone a long way to keeping the legacy of Nordiques vs Canadiens alive, and preserving the Battle of Quebec!

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Notable recent flashpoint; In 2014, the Montreal Carabins finished 7-1 and travelled to Quebec City for a Dunsmore Cup showdown with the 7-1 Laval Rouge et Or. The task on paper couldn’t have been more difficult for Montreal, Laval had won all seven previous playoff matches between the two and was unbeaten in seventy games at home. In front of 13,698 fans, a low-scoring affair finished 9-9 meaning we were heading to overtime. The Carabins struck first with a field goal to take a 12-9 lead, and after the Rogue et Or missed on a field goal attempt, the win was confirmed. For the first time in eight playoff attempts, Montreal had defeated Laval, snapping their Quebec City rival’s seventy-home game winning streak and becoming RSEQ champions for the first time! Montreal hasn’t looked back since then, with the rivalry now being incredibly competitive, with 2014 often being seen as the turning point. 

7. Cavalry vs Forge

This might be the only CPL rivalry on the list, but anyone who’s paid attention to the Canadian soccer landscape won’t be surprised by this inclusion. Despite being both just four seasons into existence and located on opposite sides of the country, these two teans have quickly grown to hate each other.
Both teams have been two of the model clubs in the CPL. Forge finished top in the 2021 regular season (on goal difference ahead of Cavalry), whilst Cavalry finished first in the 2019 season and the truncated 2020 season, to this date they are the only two teams to top a table in the CPL hence the success of one often comes at the expense of the other.

Cavalry FC vs FC Forge FC at ATCO Field, Calgary, Alberta, Canada – Aug 12, 2022 CFC Media/Tony Lewis

The two sides actually met in the 2019 CPL final, with Forge coming out on top which brought a fitting end to a debut season that seen the two sides involved in; a full team brawl, multiple red cards, and even a scandal involving a possible racist remark from a Forge coach! Today, tough tackles, bad blood and passion from the fans are all prevalent when Cavalry plays Forge, in a league where both teams have significantly closer geographic rivals, Cavalry vs Forge has proven to be the cream of the crop when it comes to CPL rivalries.

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Notable recent flashpoint; Just like in 2019, 2020, and 2021… 2022 has proven to be a year where Cavalry and Forge are deep in title contention, and when Forge travelled to Calgary in August, it was a must-win game for Cavalry. In front of a large passionate crowd, both teams played a highly entertaining game that also featured six yellow cards and twenty-five fouls, perhaps this was a result of Cavs head coach Tommy Wheedon jr stirring the pot beforehand by implying Forge often gets luck from referees. Wheedon himself then upped the ante by keeping the Forge staff waiting when it came to coming out to the field for the game to start. In return, Forge coach Bobby Smyrniotis suggested that Cavalry seem to be more motivated to beat his side than anyone else, perhaps implying that Forge lives rent-free in Cavalry’s head. When all said and done, Cavalry’s Mikaël Cantave scored a last-minute winner to win the game for the home side, and mark another chapter in this young and exciting rivalry!

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6. Ottawa Gee-Gees vs Carleton Ravens

A rivalry that engages the capital and can arguably rival American college rivalries, Ottawa and Carleton have been duking it out since 1955 to win what has become known as the Panda game. The game is played at Lansdowne Park/ TD Place Stadium, and more often than not the crowds will be above 20,000 as students and fans from both schools get into a …let’s say, ‘party atmosphere’ and create what is probably the best game day experience in college football, and even rivalling the CFL at times!

Ottawa Gee-Gees players and fans celebrate a Panda Game win at a sold out TD Place (Credit: FreestylePhotography)

Away from the football field, the two also compete in basketball in the Capital Hoops Classic. Carleton has an incredibly dominant basketball team that can even rival American teams down south. Ottawa is also a very competitive basketball program, and it’s not uncommon for the teams to get over 10,000 fans to show up to a Capital Hoops Classic at the Canadian Tire Centre. Football or basketball, the Gee-Gees vs Ravens rivalry is certainly, and unarguably Canadian college royalty.

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Notable recent flashpoint; After discontinuing their football programme after the 1998 season, the Ravens returned to the football field in 2013 and in 2014, produced one of their finest drives. Down 31-27 with twenty-five seconds left, Carleton marched down the field from their own five into Hail Mary range and after Nate Behar caught the ball, he ran in for the touchdown causing utter bedlam amongst the Ravens fans, so much so that the extra point was never taken, and Carelton won 33-31, their first Panda Game win since 1994!

5. CF Montreal vs Toronto FC

Canada’s premier soccer rivalry is also arguably the most heated, passionate, and intense soccer rivalry in MLS. These two cities don’t like each other, and although on the pitch the rivalry has only existed since 2008, it has sure made up for lost time. There have been many flashpoints; from the 6-0 Toronto win dubbed the “Miracle in Montreal in 2009”, and the revenge game in 2013 where Montreal won 6-0…to back to back MLS playoffs in 2015 and 2016. Both teams have also dominated the Canadian Championship, accounting for thirteen of the fifteen titles won in that competition.

Toronto FC and CF Montreal at each other’s throats! , Steve Russell/Toronto Star/Getty Images

Games between these two on the MLS are personified by amazing atmospheres with decibel levels that rival any league in Europe. The two solitudes might be synonymous with hockey, but for those of a soccer persuasion, it doesn’t get bigger than Toronto FC vs CF Montreal.

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Notable recent flashpoint; There are many moments that could’ve taken this spot, but undoubtedly it has to be the 2016 MLS East Semi-Final between Montreal and Toronto. Played over two legs, game one took place in a 61,000-capacity crowd at Montreal Olympic Stadium, and game two in a 36,000-capacity crowd at BMO Field. On the field, it took 210 minutes to separate these two, with Toronto eventually winning in extra time to secure a famous win on the shores of Lake Ontario!

4. Toronto Argonauts vs Hamilton Tiger-Cats

Separated by just eighty kilometres, this rivalry is one of the oldest in all of North American sports…depending on which side of the rivalry you’re talking to of course. No other city has won as many Grey Cups as Toronto and Hamilton, and both often stand in each other’s way in the CFL’s East Division when it comes to success. The two cities’ differences have fuelled the rivalry over the years. Hamilton, the blue-collar working class city that has weathered financial troubles and came out the other side versus Toronto, arguably Canada’s epicentre and home of the oldest and most successful team in Grey Cup history.

HAMILTON, ON – SEPTEMBER 06: D. J. Foster #29 of the Toronto Argonauts is tackled by Jovan Santos-Knox #45 of the Hamilton Tiger-Cats during a CFL game at Tim Hortons Field on September 6, 2021 in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images)

Either in the stands, the field, or a combination of both, bad blood is almost always affiliated with this fixture, and on the first Monday of September, the two sides meet in Hamilton for the Labor Day classic, the rivalries marquee matchup and the one regular season game that both sides of the rivalry always want to win!

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Notable recent flashpoint; In 2021, Toronto and Hamilton finished number one and number two in the East, setting up a highly anticipated Eastern final at Toronto’s BMO Field! In front of a season-high crowd of 21,492 double blue and black and gold supporters, Hamilton overcame a 12-0 halftime lead to win the game 27-19, but that’s not the whole story! At the end of the game as the Argo players were walking towards the dressing room when two men allegedly jumped a barricade and were attempting to fight with players, Toronto Police Services said in a statement. Argos players Chris Edwards and receiver Dejon Brissett then got into a physical altercation with a Ti-Cats fan, forcing the police to intervene and break it up before it escalated! When the players and fans are fighting, you know this rivalry runs strong!

3. Saskatchewan Roughriders vs Winnipeg Blue Bombers

The highest-rated CFL rivalry, and highest-rated non-hockey rivalry (spoiler), Riders vs Bombers might perhaps be the most iconic rivalry in Canadian football, especially in the west! The prairies are often considered the heartland of the CFL, both fan bases are amongst the loudest, most passionate and come game day, tend to have the highest attendances. 

Winnipeg Blue Bombers’ Lin-J Shell (14) gets in the face of Saskatchewan Roughriders’ Macho Harris (3), in the first half of the Banjo Bowl, Saturday, September 12, 2015. (TREVOR HAGAN/WINNIPEG FREE PRESS)

Two of the CFL’s marquee matchups are the Labour day classic played between the two in Regina, and the Banjo Bowl; a rematch between the two played the following week in Winnipeg. For many, these are the two most important games on the calendar, as those in green and white love nothing more than to beat the blue and gold and vice versa! 

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Notable recent flashpoint; There have been multiple playoff matches between the two lately, and I’m going for the 2019 West Final. Bombers QB Zach Collaros actually started the season on the Riders roster, but after an injury meant he lost his spot to Cody Fjardo he was traded to Toronto before eventually ending up in Winnipeg. In a close, freezing cold game in Regina, Collaros did enough to out-duel Fajardo and stun the home crowd by a score of 20-13. The moment late in when a last gasp pass from Fajardo hit off the goal post is an image that either delights or haunts many associated with this rivalry

2. Calgary Flames vs Edmonton Oilers

Coming in at number two might be the most entertaining rivalry in Canada today. The Battle of Alberta. The ingredients for a great rivalry are obvious. Calgary and Edmonton are the two biggest cities in Alberta, but add into that the two teams being the class of the eighties in the NHL, and the fact that today the two are amongst the best in their division, matches between these two are must-watch!

Calgary goalie Cam Talbot fights Edmonton goalie Mike Smith in a February 2020 Battle of Alberta matchup (Getty Images)

The proximity between the two mean games will often be a sea of Calgary red and Edmonton orange/blue, which creates an electric atmosphere that often translates onto the ice in the form of big hits, brawls and even goalie fights! When these two play, an entire province comes to a standstill. Two cities that are constantly trying to one-up each other any way they can, and will almost always measure themselves by how good their hockey team is compared to their Alberta neighbour.

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Notable recent flashpoint; For the first time since 1991, we had a Battle of Alberta in the 2022 Stanley cup playoffs for many people, this has been just as hyped up as the Stanley Cup final itself! Calgary got off to a great start, winning a wild game 1 9-6! But the Oilers, led by Connor McDavid rallied to win the series 4-1, winning the series with a McDavid overtime goal in Calgary. 

1. Toronto Maple Leafs vs Montreal Canadiens

The most iconic rivalry in the country. The Leafs and Habs are two of the biggest teams in North America, being the two biggest teams from the biggest provinces who historically couldn’t be more different. For decades, the Leafs represented English-speaking Canada, while the Habs championed French-speaking Canadiens. Even today, if you take a trip to Toronto and Montreal, the two cities feel very different from each other and both embrace those differences from each other. 

Montreal Canadiens and Toronto Maple Leafs players mix it up after the whistle during second period NHL playoff hockey action in 2021. (Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press)

Whilst many aspects of the soccer rivalry are shared with the hockey rivalry, Canada is a hockey country, and with these two teams being the most successful teams in terms of Stanley Cups, it perfectly encapsulates a nation’s love for the sport! It’s Canada’s biggest and best-known rivalry, in Canada’s biggest and best-known sport. Toronto versus Montreal, the eternal rivalry, between the two solitudes.

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Notable recent flashpoint; In 2021, the teams met in the playoffs for the first time since 1979 and despite the lack of crowd due to the pandemic, the series delivered. Toronto raced into a 3-1 series lead, but Montreal clawed back to force a game 7. In the most watched NHL broadcast of all time, the Habs went on to win the game 3-1, earning an improbable 4-3 series win! Something that the people of Montreal and Quebec won’t forget anytime soon.  


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