In 1972, the World Hockey Association began play with the Alberta Oilers as one of the circuit's charter franchises. The Oilers spent their first two seasons in the Edmonton Gardens, an arena that was 60 years old at the time and not nearly big enough to house a pro team. When the Northlands Coliseum finally opened in 1974, the Oilers, renamed after their hometown, moved in and have stayed ever since, enjoying much success during their dynasty years in the 1980s.
The arena was originally named for Northlands, a non-profit organization that hosts hundreds of entertainment events every year and maintains a sports and entertainment complex of the same name about 15 minutes northeast of the city center. They kept the Northlands name on the arena for over 20 years, before it became the Edmonton Coliseum in 1995. The era of corporate sponsorship didn’t miss Edmonton either, as the rink was once known as the Skyreach Centre before Rexall, who runs drugstores in Canada among other interests, bought the naming rights. The venue also hosts the Edmonton Rush of the NLL as well as the WHL’s Edmonton Oil Kings.
It is now the third oldest rink in the league (only the two New York arenas have been around longer) but has been renovated on several occasions to maintain a modern look. Some of these renovations have included changes to the capacity, which is currently 16,839 for the Oilers. Most notable was an extensive remodeling in 1994 during which the number of seats was reduced to allow for the installation of fifty-two luxury suites. Fortunately, these new suites did not affect the proximity of the upper bowl and Rexall Place remains a great place to watch hockey.
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Each area is rated from 0 to 5 stars with 5 being the best. The overall composite score is the "FANFARE Score".
The main concourse is flush with concessions but there isn't much outside your typical arena offerings. Perhaps the only unique option was the perogies as Edmonton boasts a large population of Ukrainian heritage. A Mediterranean burger, which was being advertised as a monthly special, was also tempting, but I chose the poutine ($7) which was surprisingly good although it is now commonplace in western rinks.
The club itself is worth visiting if you have a ticket for any of the lower bowl sections that will allow you entrance. Before the game there was an $18 buffet which looked interesting. During the intermissions you can find tables inside at which to enjoy your meal, and food lines were much shorter in here than on the main concourse. You can also watch the Oilers come out of their dressing room at one end of the club.
Despite its age, the arena has been renovated on a regular basis and has some of the best atmosphere I've seen in the league, helped no doubt by the thousands of Leaf fans at the game I attended. The overall seating bowl is still relatively small and that keeps the crowds into the games and making a lot of noise throughout. It has been reported that noise levels have reached as high as 119 decibels during playoff games and I can believe it.
There was one surprise in that fans are asked to not slam the glass while celebrating, something I have not seen in other NHL arenas. That didn't take away from the overall atmosphere as it only affects those in the first row.
Rexall Place is located on the Northlands property in a rather hardscrabble neighborhood north of downtown, where car repair shops and old houses are the most common sight. There is a horse track and casino to the south (also run by Northlands), but not much else in the immediate vicinity.
There is a single hotel across Wayne Gretzky Drive and a couple of nightspots just below it, including a welcoming bar known as Flow Lounge and Grill that was fairly busy after the game and provided good beer and service. Next to it is the Diesel Ultra Lounge, a nightclub that was rocking to the early hours. I did not explore the rest of the area on foot as there was nothing much to see and it was unpleasantly cold.
It's hard to describe Oilers fans in much detail as about half the people there were supporting the visiting Maple Leafs. Those fans with Edmonton colors did make their share of noise and seemed very knowledgeable about the game. They showed up early and filled the concourse long before game time, and were friendly to their neighbors from the east. After the game as well, they packed the clubs and had a good time despite their team being near the bottom of the standings yet again in 2012.
I found the staff there to be extraordinarily friendly as well, engaging in a number of conversations with the ushers all of whom were happy to tell us about the team and the rink.
There is a light rail stop right next to the stadium, as well as plenty of parking lots in the immediate area. I did not drive so did not see how easy it would be to get in or out.
The main concourse is fairly small and it can be difficult to navigate during the intermission, but the addition of the club underneath does alleviate this somewhat. There is a smaller concourse above the second seating level which is much less crowded, but has fewer concessions as a result.
There is a large waiting area next to the box office which is an absolute necessity in the frigid winter and was nearly full when the gates opened 90 minutes before game time.
Parking isn't great, but it isn't terrible either. There are plenty of businesses and private lots where you can park for anywhere from $6-$12. However, timing is critical, as the attendants like to pack cars in and you might have to wait a few minutes to get out after the game.
Generally tickets here are very expensive with the best lower bowl seats now costing over $200. The upper bowl goes from just over $100 for the lower rows to $75 for the upper rows, with a standing room section at $40 at the very top of the venue. All ticket prices are approximate as they vary depending on the opponent.
There is only one row of suites so the second tier is very close to the ice and gives great views and is the best bet moneywise as tickets are generally about half the price of those just a few feet below you. The club is mostly underneath the first level of seats so it doesn't impact the seating bowl.
There is a third seating level on one side of the rink which is still reasonably close. Go up here, if only to take some pictures and get a good look at all those banners.
If you are buying tickets, it might help to know that seat numbers go right to left when facing the ice as there can be a big difference between seat 1 and seat 16 in a section close to the ice.
Before you enter, make sure to check out the Wayne Gretzky statue next to the east entrance. It is a life-size bronze statue depicting the Great One hoisting the Stanley Cup. While we were there, a couple was getting married in front of it!
One unique touch is the 30-foot high oil derrick that is lowered before the game so the Oilers can skate through it as they enter the ice.
The Oilers have a storied history and the banners to prove it. But as I walked around the concourse, I was disappointed that there weren't more displays dedicated to those great teams of the 1980s. There were a few pictures of record-breaking moments, and even pictures of some concert performances, but nothing more impressive. I really think they should do a better job of honoring these players who made Edmonton the City of Champions.
There is one other interesting extra that is not visible to the public but deserves mention here. Just inside the entrance to the dressing room is a cubicle with five replica Stanley Cups. Next to these replicas is an empty space symbolizing the quest for another championship.
I really like this place as it maintains an old-school feel without sacrificing the modern amenities. The location is certainly not the best, and there is talk of building a downtown arena to replace Rexall Place, so if you haven't been here yet, try to stop by soon.
Lately, Daryl Katz, owner of the Edmonton Oilers, has been working hard in the Edmonton area on securing the start-up of a new downtown arena that would see the Edmonton Oilers playing out of one of the NHL's most state-of-the-art facilities.
As it is now, Rexall Place serves its intended purpose, and is currently home to the Edmonton Oilers of the NHL, the Edmonton Rush of the NLL and the Edmonton Oil Kings of the WHL. It also hosts most of Edmonton's big concert events and though it is one of the oldest venues in the NHL, it has often been renovated to keep the facilities up to date.
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