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Official Review by Jim Flannery, Stadium Journey Regional Correspondent
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.
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 concessions stands have all the usual stadium goodies at typical stadium prices; a hot dog or a small pop will run you $4, a burger costs $4.75. The poutine, which is quite tasty, is $7.
There are also a couple of Boston Pizza stands at Rexall. If you'd prefer a slice of pizza instead of a dog, $6.25 will hook you up.
The beer selection is limited to Molson Canadian or Coors Light, which is available on tap at every concession stand ($8 each). There are also a couple of specialty drink counters with a slightly larger selection of adult beverages, but the options remain limited.
Rexall Place closes all but a handful of seats in the upper bowl for Oil Kings games, which puts the bulk of the crowd into the lower bowl. Keeping things much more cozy creates a much more lively atmosphere in the stands than you might otherwise get if you had 6,000-7,000 people spread out amongst all 16,000 seats in the building.
Things are nevertheless fairly subdued for the most part, with bursts of enthusiasm, cheers and jeers at the right moments.
Things are further perked up with the regular appearance in the stands of Louie the Lion, the Oil Kings team mascot, as well as regular giveaways to the loudest members of the crowd.
Overall, things are fun and engaging at Rexall.
The neighborhood surrounding Rexall Place is pretty empty. To the west is a residential community with not much beyond houses in it. There really isn't much else around. Directly across the street to the east from Rexall is the Coliseum Inn which includes the Flow Lounge and Grill and the Diesel Ultra Lounge on the main floor. Just south of that you'll find the Fireside Bar and Grill, which makes a pretty decent pizza. But aside from those places, if you're looking for some pre- or post-game dining or entertainment, you'll be traveling elsewhere.
The Oil Kings are drawing about 6,000 fans per game in the early stages of the 2012- 13 season, which is quite good for a WHL team. Being a Canadian crowd (and perhaps being a little hockey-starved during the latest NHL lockout), these fans are hardcore and they know their hockey. They know when a good play has been made, they know when the refs have made a questionable call; they know when to applaud and when to boo.
As a result, hanging out in the stands with these people is a good time. You're in amongst an engaged, if moderately sedate, crowd.
Although Rexall Place is tucked up in Edmonton's northeast and well away from most everything, the good news is that roads and city transit are all quite good for bringing fans to the arena.
With a crowd that is a lot smaller than you might find at an Oilers game, the parking lots at Northlands Park have plenty of space to accommodate the vehicle traffic. On the downside, the $12 price for parking seems pretty steep for a relatively remote location.
Taking the light rail transit is therefore a very good option. There is a stop right outside Rexall and the train can take you the length of the city. At $3 per person, this is a cost effective and easy way to get to and from games.
Rexall's concourse is the biggest giveaway that this building is on the old side. While it might have been considered adequate when the stadium opened, much of it feels narrow and tight compared to more modern facilities. Fortunately, with Rexall Place filled to far less than capacity for the Oil Kings, this is less of a problem than it might otherwise be if the place was sold out.
Oil Kings tickets run anywhere from $15 to $30, a bargain compared to Oilers tickets. They're basically all good seats, especially since virtually all the available seats are in the lower bowl.
For the more extravagant out there, it is possible to rent an executive suite capable of housing 12-24 fans. Better start collecting from your friends now, because these suites will cost you $1500-$3000, a substantial step up from the regular seats.
At the end of the day though, you really can't go wrong with the price for an Oil Kings game.
As noted above, you can expect some giveaways during the game and the kiddies will be distracted and amused by Louie the Lion. Add in a couple on-ice contests between periods and there are a number of activities and goings-on above and beyond the game itself.
Out in the concourse you'll find a fully appointed Oilers/Oil Kings store where you can find all manner of souvenirs, hats, shirts and jerseys.
Taken all in all, junior hockey at Rexall is an entertaining experience, particularly with the Oil Kings as strong a franchise as they are now. Heading out to an Oil Kings game is well worth the time.
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11845 Wayne Gretzky Drive
Edmonton, AB T5B 4M9
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