The Edmonton Oilers enjoyed one of the great sports dynasties. Earning five Stanley Cups in seven years, the Oilers became a who’s-who of Hockey Hall of Fame members and showcased the greatest player ever, Wayne Gretzky.
The Oilers came from humble beginnings as one of the 12 founding members of the fledgling WHA in 1972. Also spending time as the Alberta Oilers in the early years, the team would go on to join the NHL in the merger of 1979. In the previous year, the Oilers purchased a young Wayne Gretzky from the Indianapolis Racers for cash, and in a adept move, then owner Peter Pocklington found a loophole to keep Gretzky from entering the reclamation draft of the NHL. The highs of the Stanley Cup victories would be met with the low of August 9, 1988 when Wayne Gretzky was traded to the Los Angeles Kings. Owner Peter Pocklington would eventually sell the Oilers, and they would eventually be purchased by current owner Daryl Katz.
Home for the Oilers has always been Rexall Place. Formerly known as the Northlands Coliseum, Edmonton Coliseum and Skyreach Centre, the Rexall Place is owned by the not-for-profit, volunteer organization, Northlands. The naming rights are held by Katz’ pharmaceutical retail company Rexall. The 2015-2016 hockey season is the final season for the Oilers at Rexall. They will move to the state of the art, city owned Rogers Place in downtown Edmonton.
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".
Concession options are pretty average at Rexall Place.
The concession stands in Rexall Place are fairly uniform. The stands look similar, with similar menu styles. Menu items offer what you would expect from an NHL arena with a few interesting options. 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 readily 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 offers a decent venue for watching hockey, but there are areas for improvement, which would be why the Oilers are making a move.
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. The final season for Rexall offers large banners acknowledging the seminal season. 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 the Rexall Place you are immediately thrust into the concourse, which encircles the entire arena. There are many moments frozen in time throughout the concourse, mostly major Oilers events during the eighties and early nineties. With the final season at Rexall upon us, there are extra banners throughout the concourses celebrating key Oiler moments at Rexall. A little exploring will be worthwhile. 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. Also at the northwest side, patrons will find 21 championship banners, colour-coordinated based on the level achieved. Look for the five white banners honouring the 1984, 1985, 1987, 1988 and 1990 Stanley Cup champions. At the southeast end hang the nine banners honouring Oiler broadcasters, front office and seven retired numbers. Al Hamilton, Jarri Kurri, Grant Fuhr, Mark Messier, Glenn Anderson, Paul Coffey and Wayne Gretzky all have their Oiler numbers retired. Also there are banners honouring coach and general manager Glen Sather for his part in the five Stanley Cup championships and the 3,542 games of broadcaster Rod Phillips are also honoured.
The game production at an Oilers game is about what you would expect at an NHL game. There are a couple of items of note at an Oilers game. At the climax of the pregame, the team enters the ice surface skating under the iconic oil derrick, which is dropped from the ceiling. Unfortunately, the music selection was not terrific. Especially during the pregame, a plethora of "mash-up" music was played, with essentially two or more tracks being played on top of each other.
The seating bowl at Rexall is not terrific, and improvements will be welcome to Oiler fans. Rexall Place essentially has two main seating levels, with a third upper level on the southwest side. Capacity is small for an NHL arena at over 16,000. Lower bowl seats are what you would expect, however upper bowl seats are padded seats with wooden backs. Upper bowl seats also are light on the leg room. If you need that perfect picture of the ice surface with the centre-ice logo facing you, the northeast side is where you want to be.
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 postgame 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 in 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 Oil Kings of the Western Hockey League also share Rexall Place. 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. 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.
Edmonton Oilers fans help define die-hard.
The Oilers consistently average over 16,800 fans per game at Rexall Place. As compared to the rest of the NHL, the Oilers fit squarely in the middle of the league with regards to average attendance. However, 16,800 is pretty much capacity and the Oilers are regularly filling their building. Although the Oilers have significant number first-overall draft picks, they have earned them with a number of disappointing seasons on the ice. It will be interesting to see what happens with Oiler attendance when they make the move to Rogers Place complete with larger capacity and no doubt higher prices.
Oiler fans are a little more rambunctious than your average Canadian hockey fans. They are knowledgeable and intelligent, but are on average louder than some of their Canadian counterparts. Oiler fans love to give the referees a hard time and are more than willing to voice their displeasure when a call goes against the home side.
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 and public transit is a popular method of getting to an Oilers game. Check out the Edmonton Transit System website for maps schedules and fares.
Parking around Northlands is not the greatest. For Oilers games, many of the lots 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.
There are two main gate entries at Rexall at the northeast and southwest of the building. There is 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.
Getting around the arena can be challenging at intermission times. If you are in that 300 level, the best bet is to head up the stairs to the very top where concessions and washrooms are also available. Washroom facilities are okay.
The Edmonton Oilers offer a decent return for your entertainment dollar, but like most major sports, you are going to pay.
According to the Fan Cost Index, the Oilers can be found 8th in the NHL at $393.75. This is significantly above the NHL average. Regular season tickets begin at around $60 and go up from there. Other costs are about what you would expect for the NHL. Rexall does not offer the greatest comfort and there are significant improvements that can be expected when they move downtown to Rogers Place.
An extra mark for the Oilers future being secured in Northern Alberta with the building and moving to Rogers Arena.
An extra mark for the iconic Wayne Gretzky statue with the Stanley Cup that stands outside of Rexall Place.
An extra mark for the showcasing of the Oilers' championship history.
Rexall Place was essentially the House that Gretzky built. He brought international attention to a city that would not normally enjoy such recognition. On one level, it is sad to see the doors of Rexall close for the final time, however there is great hope for the future with what Rogers Place will bring to the city of Edmonton and the Oilers.
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.
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.
11845 Wayne Gretzky Drive NW
Edmonton, AB T5B 4R4