Northlands Coliseum opened in 1974 and within a few short years became known as the home of one of the best NHL teams in history. The Edmonton Oilers dynasty, led by Wayne Gretzky, Mark Messier, and Paul Coffey, rattled off an impressive four Stanley Cup victories in five years and five Cups in seven years.
Almost 40 years (and a couple name changes) later, Rexall Place remains the home of the Oilers and the WHL’s Oil Kings. But a third tenant was also added in 2005 and that team is working hard to build a loyal following.
The Edmonton Rush play indoor (aka “box”) lacrosse at Rexall Place in the National Lacrosse League (NLL). Although the franchise has had some ups and downs, they seem to have found their groove in recent years, going all the way to the Champion’s Cup in 2012, finishing the 2013 season in a three-way tie for first place in the West Division, and winning an NLL-record 14 games in a row to start the 2014 season.
Rexall has undergone several facelifts over the course of its time in service, which helps to keep things relatively modern inside the facility. But construction on Rexall’s replacement is now underway in downtown Edmonton, so this arena’s days are numbered.
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Conventional concession fare is mostly what you will find at Rexall. Burgers, popcorn, soft drinks, and the like are all here. The prices are similarly typical for this size of an arena - a German sausage on a bun will run you $6.25 for example. Depending on the stand you go to, you might also find some more exotic choices, such as three flavours of poutine (a French-Canadian delicacy made of french fries covered in gravy and cheese curds) as well as perogies (basically bite-size potato dumplings, they are an Eastern European standard popular with many of the locals in the Edmonton area).
You'll also find two Boston Pizza locations around the concourse ($6.50 per slice) and, on the north end, the Centre Ice Cafe with specialty coffees as well as some healthier dining options like salads, veggie trays and wraps.
Molson Canadian can be purchased by the glass ($8.25) at all concessions (except the Centre Ice Cafe) and there's also a liberal sprinkling of specialty alcohol stands that offer highballs, wine, coolers, and some imported beer brands such as Heineken and Corona.
Box lacrosse is, without a doubt in my mind, the best spectator sport ever created. It has everything that a sport needs to be entertaining; speed, power, finesse, subtlety, aggression, and a healthy dollop of rough-and-tumble to round it all off. I know people who aren't into sports who will happily go see a couple NLL games a year.
So it comes as no surprise that there's some good energy in the building when the Rush take the floor.
There is always music playing at NLL games, which adds a little extra juice to the atmosphere and helps keep the fans engaged throughout the event. Not that that's really a problem.
On the downside, the crowds at Rexall Place are relatively small for the NLL, typically filling the arena to about half capacity. With as many empty seats as there are, even an enthusiastic crowd can have difficulty maintaining good crowd noise. In fact, Rexall closes off much of the upper bowl and hides those seats behind curtains.
Also, the Rush seem to almost be guests at their own home as there is little around the facility to tie them to the place. No posters or pictures are to be seen around the concourse and there's just a single pennant hanging above the rink, honoring Jimmy Quinlan's recently retired number 81, alongside the numerous Oilers and Oil Kings banners.
That weaknesses notwithstanding, overall things stay upbeat and exciting from the moment things get underway, which guarantees a good time for all.
Unless you live in the immediate neighborhood, there is very little to go to before or after a game at Rexall Place.
Across the street to the east, you'll find two options: the Flow Lounge and Grill in the bottom of the Coliseum Inn and the Fireside Restaurant on the south end of the block. But that is it.
Although these are two good options, they don't have the capacity to handle an arena's worth of patrons. Plan instead to head elsewhere after the game to get your party on.
Assuming the Rush move downtown to Rogers Place when it gets built, the neighbourhood score is liable to change for the better.
The 8,700 fans in attendance at the game I most recently went to know their lacrosse and were into the game from beginning to end. They kept the noise in Rexall decently high in spite of the building only being half full. The sad part of these small crowds is that the product on the floor is excellent, particularly with the Rush's recent successes.
But the lacrosse community is growing with a lot of youth getting into the sport, so there's lots of room for this to improve in the coming years. Also encouragingly, overall attendance numbers were up for the 2014 season after a couple years of declining audiences.
Having Rexall Place situated up in the northeast quadrant of the city makes it a longish trip to get to from the deep south and south west. However, the roads leading there are good overall and there is ample parking available on the Northlands grounds to accommodate the number of people coming to see the Rush. At $15, the parking price is on the high side (especially considering how far away Rexall is from everything), but not atypical for what is seen in similar sized venues.
Access to and from Rexall Place by way of the light rail transit system is an excellent option. A train ride from the extreme south end of the track to the arena will cost you $3.20, will take less than half an hour and Coliseum Station is situated right next to the stadium, which makes it a snap to get to.
Once inside the building, you'll find the concourse to be on the tight side, with indirect lighting that keeps the corridors a little more dim than what would be optimal. Stairs and escalators chew up a ton of real estate, making getting around a bit of a challenge although, again, with less than a full house, this problem is far less of an issue than it might be for a sellout crowd.
With ticket prices as low as $35 and the best seats in the house are a bargain at $70 apiece (and seats in the Safeway Section are available for $22 per seat at local Safeway stores), attending a Rush game is just about the best value for your sports watching dollar that you'll find in the city. Seats are easy to come by at all price levels, so choosing your favorite spot and price point is no problem.
The seats themselves are comfortable and provide a great view of the floor regardless of location, so there really isn't a bad seat in the house. There isn't any reason not to give this great sport a try.
The Rush provide a solid product over and above the game itself.
There is a stand set up near the main entrance for souvenir collectors, for all your Rush hat, shirt and knick-knack needs. The downside of these tables is that it chews up some of the concourse, which is tight to begin with, and it also adds to the sense that the Rush are guests in their own home as they don't have a permanent kiosk for their merchandise.
The team's mascots, Slush and Freez, keep the kids entertained with their antics on the floor during breaks in the action and touring the stands.
The Rush's dance team, the Crush, do a great job getting the fans fired up with their dance moves during stops in the lacrosse action. They also help out with giveaways and maintain a presence around Rexall throughout the game.
After games, the Rush and Crush come out onto the floor for an autograph session with any fans who want to hang around for a bit. This is a great feature of the NLL and gives fans a chance to meet the team.
I'm always happy to see recycling bins at the stadiums I visit and Rexall Place does a nice job of providing them throughout the concourse.
As an added bonus, you'll also find a cell phone charging station in the concourse for Rogers Mobility customers with low batteries.
Although Rexall has a few flaws and is a little long in the tooth, the overall impression is still a good one. While its days are numbered, it is still a good facility to take in this sport. And box lacrosse truly is nothing short of excellent. Expect a good time and a great game.
Northlands Coliseum opened in 1974 and within a few short years became known as the home of the best NHL team of the 80s. The Edmonton Oilers dynasty rattled off an impressive four Stanley Cup victories in five years and five Cups in seven years.
Almost 40 years (and a couple name changes) later, Rexall Place remains the home of the Oilers and the WHL’s Oil Kings. However a third tenant was also added 8 years ago and that new team is continuing to slowly build a very loyal following.
The Edmonton Rush play indoor (aka “box”) lacrosse at Rexall Place in the National Lacrosse League. Although the franchise has had some ups and downs, in 2012 they are celebrating their tenth anniversary in style with their second ever trip to the playoffs.
Rexall has undergone several facelifts over the course of its time in service, which helps to keep things relatively modern inside the facility. That said, talk about a new downtown arena has become a hot topic in Edmonton recently, so this building might not have too many more years left. So you’ll have to come enjoy it while you still can!
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