I don't know if you've heard about this or not, but with the Oilers moving to Rogers Place next season, tonight's game versus the Canucks will be the Oilers final game at Northlands Coliseum/Edmonton Coliseum/Skyreach Centre/Rexall Place, a building that they've called home since November of 1974. Since there has been barely anything written about the game I'm sure that this is the first you've heard about it.
Personally, I've found the run-up to this evening's game to be tough to handle at times, and nauseating at other times. Hearing people gush about how great the building is, and all the memories that they have of the games they've watched there, after crapping all over the building to justify the dollars needed to construct a new arena seems a little disingenuous to me. I know that the two things are not mutually exclusive concepts, that you can love Rexall Place and think a new arena is a must have, but it just doesn't sit well with me. But regardless of how I feel about how we got here, the fact is we're here now, and so looking back makes a lot of sense.
The fist NHL game that I saw wasn't in this building, it was at the Pacific Coliseum in Vancouver, the Canucks hosted the Oilers. I didn't get to see a game at Northlands Coliseum until the 1991/92 season. And I didn't get to see a playoff game until Game 3 of the Oilers' second series against the Avalanche in 1997. Obviously my memories from the arena don't include the team's dynasty years, so I'll leave it others to tell you about those years, or just read this amazing piece from Andy Grabia instead. I did get to see a few fun things though and I have some great memories from the place, and every time I think about it I seem to remember something else.These are a few of my favourites:
- In the mid 90s, when the building was never sold out, the row of seats behind the television cameras was always empty. I don't even know if those seats were available for purchase. Anyway a buddy and I would always get tickets up in the 300s and go straight for those seats. At 16/17 years old it seemed like the greatest place in the world to sit.
- Game 3 of the 2003 playoff series against Dallas, that was the same day that Mike Weir won the Masters. It was a hockey game in April and it seemed like half the people in the building wanted to talk about golf.
- Jersey retirements, Glenn Anderson, Paul Coffey, Grant Fuhr, Jari Kurri, and Mark Messier's jerseys raised to the rafters. The nights when Rod Phillips and Glen Sather were honoured by the team, I was there on those nights too.
- 2006. I could almost leave it at that but, me being me, that's not going to happen. There were 11 home games during that Stanley Cup run and I was lucky enough to be in the building for each and everyone of them. I spent more money on those tickets than I could afford but it was worth every penny.
- I don't remember when it started, but at some point during the 2006 playoffs a couple fans in my section - I sat in Section 302 back then - noticed Gene Principe on the catwalk during the intermission. With nothing else to do, they, and the then the rest of the section, started chanting "Prin-ci-pe" until he finally acknowledged us with a wave. Encouraged by this, the same thing happened game after game after game throughout that run.
- Game 6 against Detroit. Ales Hemsky scores late in the game to send the Oilers to the next round and with the building going crazy after the game ended, I found myself watching Steve Yzerman skate off the ice for the final time in his career.
- The triple overtime game in Game 3 against the Sharks. That was it, down 2-0 in the series, it was score the next goal or go home. After five periods I wasn't sure if I even cared who won any more, I just knew that I wanted it to end. Thank you Shawn Horcoff for giving the game an ending that I will always remember.
- Singing the anthem with Paul Lorieau before Game 3 against the Ducks. That night the building was the craziest that I had ever seen. It was a complete madhouse in there and yet it was perfect at the same time. In a lot of ways it was perfect.
- I always thought that it'd be a lot of fun to see a Stanley Cup game someday. It tells you a lot about the Oilers teams that I watched that I never thought about seeing the Oilers play in the Stanley Cup Final. I was shaking in my seat before the puck dropped that night. I'll never forget that feeling.
- Patrick Stefan embarrassing himself. I could live to be 150 years old and I don't think I'll see a crazier end to a game.
- For the 2010/11 season my wife and I moved down into the 200s, getting seats just above the goal line at the end the Oilers attack twice. From those seats we had a fantastic view of Taylor Hall's first hat-trick; Jordan Eberle's first career goal (still an absolute beauty); Nail Yakupov's game tying goal and celebratory slide.
- Post 2006 maybe the loudest that I've heard the building was for the Linus Omark shootout spin-o-rama. Not for the goal itself but just from him stepping onto the ice.
- And then there was Sam Gagner's eight point night. Early in the third period the Oilers took a 4-3 lead when Gagner his second goal of the night, I leaned over to my wife and said, "Good night for Gagner, a couple goals, I think he had an assist too." Then he got another one and I thought I'd better check to see how many points he actually had. I ended up calling in sick the next day.
I don't know exactly how many games I've been to at Rexall Place, or whatever it was called at the time. Thinking about it last night, probably between 325 and 375. I might not know the exact number but I'm sure that I've seen more losses than wins. Still, even with all those losses I've had a lot of good times there, even more than I've listed here, and that's what I'll choose to remember tonight as I take in one last game.