The Calgary Hitmen changed everything. When the Hitmen made a Western Hockey League return to Alberta’s largest city in 1994 they rewrote attendance expectations in the WHL. Vancouver soon followed suit with the Giants, drawing big crowds just like the Hitmen. The Owners of the Edmonton Oilers saw an opportunity for junior hockey to once again have a place in the city of Edmonton. The city of Edmonton is no stranger to junior hockey. The original incarnation of the Oil Kings would call Edmonton home for 25 years from 1951 to 1976. Eventually they would be forced to move due to competition with the Edmonton Oilers and would remain a bedrock franchise in the WHL as the Portland Winter Hawks. Edmonton would see the second incarnation as the Oil Kings in 1978 and would only last one season. Another shot at WHL hockey would come in the form of the Edmonton Ice, but they would relocate to Cranbrook, British Columbia to become the Kootenay Ice. Eventually, it would be the Oilers themselves that would search out another opportunity for junior hockey, only this time with their full support and ownership. The expansion Oil Kings would return in 2007.
Home for the Oil Kings, for now, is the same home as the NHL’s Oilers. Rexall Place has been the home of the Oil Kings since their expansion date in 2007. The former Northlands Coliseum was built in 1974, and will be vacated by the Oil Kings, along with the Oilers, for the 2016-2017 season in favour of the downtown Edmonton arena, Rogers Place. The owner of the Oil Kings’ parent company is pharmaceutical retail baron, Daryl Katz. It is Katz’s Rexall Pharmacies that owns the naming rights for the Rexall Place. Rexall Place is owned by the not-for-profit, volunteer organization Northlands, that also owns the park on which Rexall Place sits. This is the last trip through the WHL at Rexall for the Oil Kings before they head downtown. Hopefully, the good experience can be brought with them.
The FANFARE scale is our metric device for rating each stadium experience. It covers the following:
Each area is rated from 0 to 5 stars with 5 being the best. The overall composite score is the "FANFARE Score".
The food at Rexall Place is pretty average for an NHL venue, but better than average for a junior hockey facility.
Rexall's concession stands have a uniform look to them. The standard arena fare is available. Hot dogs ($4.75), sausage, burgers ($5.25), popcorn ($4.25/$6.75), fries, chicken tenders, onion rings, pretzels, nachos, ice cream, cotton candy, and chocolate bars are all readily available. There is a more unique concession stand for pizza, which is run by Pizza 73 ($6.50). There are a couple of more unique items available. You may consider trying chicken cordon bites, perogies or a jalapeno cheese pretzel.
Fountain soda is available at most stands and offers Coca-cola products ($4.25/$5). Plastic bottles are also readily available ($5.25). Other non-alcoholic beverages are also available including milk, juice, and water. You can readily find Molson Canadian and Bud Light for beer options throughout the arena ($8.50) on tap. Smirnoff coolers and Mott's Caesars are also available in other alcoholic beverage options.
Rexall Place provides a better than expected atmosphere for watching junior hockey.
The exterior of the Rexall Place is very non-descript. The arena offers a circular exterior with no windows to offer natural light. The architecture assuredly screams 1970s as a massive concrete structure. Two highlights of the exterior of Rexall Place can be found at the southwest and northeast gates. The southwest gate features a large bronze statue of Inspector A.H. Griesbach, an Inspector of the North-West Mounted Police in what was then Fort Saskatchewan, now Edmonton, in the late 1800's. The northeast gate is the key meeting place for all and it is where you will find the famous Wayne Gretzky bronze statue. If you are looking for a picture at this monument, you may be required to wait in line for a clear moment.
Inside Rexall Place, the concourses are full of Rexall Place memories on posters from the Oilers and other acts that have come to Rexall. A highlight in the concourse for Oil Kings games is the large yellow throne, which is perfect for pictures. There are also a number of temporary banners around the concourses featuring current Oil Kings players. There is a distinct Oilers feel to the concourse, however there are a few parts that give Rexall a bit of a different flavour for the Oil Kings. Upon entering the seating bowl, patrons are met with a decent four sided video board with four sided dot-matrix boards above to go with the simple scoreboards. A ribbon board surrounds the arena, but is in a bit of disrepair as some sections were not functioning properly. The ice surface is in a northwest-southeast configuration. The northwest side of the arena prominently features a massive "This is Oil Country" marquee above the seating bowl. Above the ice on the southwest side of the arena hang the four banners honouring the 1971, 1972, 2012 and 2014 WHL champions as well as the three Memorial Cup Champions banners from 1963, 1966 and 2014. It's an impressive resume for any junior hockey franchise.
The in-game production at an Oil Kings game is excellent. There seems to be something going on constantly and many promotions present at Oil Kings games would be considered too hokey for the NHL. On the date of this review, fans were lucky enough to be treated to an appearance by the Memorial Cup, brought to the ice surface by an honour guard. Music selections are what you would expect with a selection of modern and classic pop/rock. One of the great promotions that is seen throughout junior hockey that a big building takes to a new level is the chuck-a-puck promotion. It is quite a sight to see thousands of sponge pucks hit the ice from all directions with the goal of being the closest puck to the centre. Keep your eyes open if you are sitting close to the glass!
The seating bowl is modified a bit for Oil Kings games. For most games, the upper bowl is completely curtained off. Curtains can be opened for larger crowds and the atmosphere is made more intimate with the curtains. The seats in the lower bowl are definitely the best in the arena. They are the most comfortable and offer the most legroom. The best spot to sit, although it is a little more expensive, is in the club section on the northeast side.
The biggest drawback of Rexall Place is the surrounding neighbourhood, one that will be addressed at Rogers Place.
Rexall Place is located on the grounds of Northlands. There are very few options for pre and post game meals in the surrounding neighbourhood. The best option is within walking distance at the Flow lounge.
On the grounds of Northlands you will also find the Northlands Park Horse Racing and Casino. There are also a wide variety of other events that are held at Northlands. Another big highlight of Edmonton is West Edmonton Mall. Not within walking distance of Northlands, West Edmonton Mall features a huge number of retail venues, dining and both a waterpark and amusement park within the mall. There are a number of sporting options in Edmonton also. The Edmonton Oilers of the NHL also share Rexall Place and will be moving to Rogers Place for the fall of 2016. Commonwealth Stadium is home to the CFL's Edmonton Eskimos. The University of Alberta fields a full compliment of CIS athletic teams including football at Foote Field, hockey at Clare Drake Arena and basketball at the Universiade Pavilion. Locals know the home of Golden Bears basketball as the Butterdome due to its bright yellow tile exterior and rectangular shape. Also, MacEwan University plays Griffins basketball in the CIS at the Christenson Family Centre for Sport and Wellness.
There is pretty much only one option for accommodations in the immediate area. Right across the street from Rexall Place you will find the Coliseum Inn.
The Edmonton Oil Kings have fantastic fans.
Since 2014, the Oil Kings have averaged more than 6,700 fans per game and have a lock on the third best attendance in the WHL. The game that was reviewed was the annual school-day game which saw more than 11,000 fans, many of which were kids, wildly cheering on the Oil Kings. Junior hockey has tried and true fans in most markets and Edmonton is no different. The fans come out and vocally support their team. Of note, the Oil Kings drew just as many fans per game in the 2016 season, when they barely made the playoffs, as they did in 2014 when they won the Memorial Cup. Oil Kings fans are intelligent and sophisticated, like those you will find in most other major Canadian hockey markets.
Getting in and around Rexall Place has its pros and cons.
Northlands is located in the northeast section of Edmonton, a fair trek from downtown. Rexall is essentially between the main sections of Trans-Canada Highway 16, which runs east and west out of town. Major streets Yellowhead Trail and Wayne Gretzky Drive are closest to Rexall and make getting to Rexall not awful with traffic.
A strength of Rexall is access to public transit. The Coliseum Station is a stop for numerous bus lines as well as Edmonton's light rail transit. The station is mere steps away from Rexall Place. Check out the Edmonton Transit System website for maps schedules and fares.
Parking around Northlands is not the greatest. For Oil King games, many of the spots are reserved for pass holders. There is some surface parking around Rexall Place. If you are driving, the best bet is to get parking early. You will be looking at around $10-$15 for event parking which would be considered high for most junior hockey franchises, but comparable to those in major markets.
There are two main gate entries at Rexall at the northeast and southwest of the building. There is a little shelter at these gates, which can be problematic during cold Edmonton winters. Ticket windows are inside the small gathering place, which is very crowded before the doors open.
With a lower attendance than Oiler games, getting around the concourses for an Oil Kings game is a little easier. Of course intermissions offer more of a challenge, but not nearly as challenging as it is for an Oilers game. Washroom facilities are adequate.
Edmonton Oil Kings hockey offers great return on investment.
Tickets for the Oil Kings will run from $33 for club seats to $22 for sides to $19 for ends. Although club seats are definitely on the high side, there are more than enough seats for a good price. Parking and concessions may also be a bit on the high side, but are comparable to other major hockey markets like Calgary and Ottawa. The product on the ice for Oil Kings games is fantastic, offering high paced action with players who are doing everything they can to make it to the next level.
An extra mark for the city of Edmonton and Edmonton Oilers finally figuring out how to make junior hockey work in Edmonton after numerous incarnations.
Two extra marks for the strong community connections made by the Oil Kings. At the game reviewed the Oil Kings had a group of youth hockey referees on the ice to hold the giant jersey during the National Anthems.
After a number of attempts, it seems that the WHL has finally been figured out in Edmonton. It will be interesting to see what happens when the Oil Kings make their way downtown and join their big brother Oilers at Rogers Place. Until then, the Oil Kings remain the Kings of Oil Country.
Since the Oilers arrived in Edmonton in 1972, junior hockey has been a tough sell. The original Oil Kings, founded in 1950, moved to Portland in 1976 following steadily waning attendance.
But after a couple aborted attempts to revive junior hockey, the newly incarnated Oil Kings seem to have finally found their place in the community.
The Oil Kings returned to Edmonton for the 2007-08 season and have been playing— and succeeding—ever since. Owned and operated by the Katz Group, which also owns the NHL’s Oilers, the Oil Kings are settled in at Rexall Place, drawing good crowds, and winning, big-time.
In fact, the Oil Kings won the Ed Chynoweth Cup for the 2011-12 season, as top team in the WHL and went to the Memorial Cup as the Western representatives. Going into the 2012-13 season, the Oil Kings are looking as good or better, so big things are likely to happen again at Rexall.
Rexall itself has had a number of renovations and upgrades in its almost 40 years of existence, so it remains a solid facility for taking in a hockey game.
11845 Wayne Gretzky Drive
Edmonton, AB T5B 4M9