Over the years, Rexall Place has become the home to history. Built in 1974 in anticipation of a coming WHA team, it started out as a plain jane building, meant to house rodeos, concerts and sports events for the growing city of Edmonton. No one knew that 10 years later, the hockey team that would call the arena home would be the Edmonton Oilers. They definitely didn’t know that the city and its new NHL expansion team would produce some of the greatest hockey players of the modern era. With 5 Stanley Cups in the 80’s and 90’s and an exciting run in 2006, there is a sense that the ice at this arena is hallowed ground. The memories float in the air around the aging facility with reminders of the glory days lining the walls around the concourse.
Fans hold many fond memories, as recently as the last game of the current regular season, when long time Oiler favourite Ryan Smyth hung up his jersey for the last time. Many were there for Wayne Gretzky’s 50 in 39, Nail Yakupov’s now notorious celebration, and the retirement of Glenn Anderson’s jersey. The list could go on.
The Edmonton arena is a place where the heart of the city has always been, beating strong in good times and bad.
In 2016, Rexall Place will no longer be the home to the Edmonton Oilers. In its place will be a metallic behemoth in the downtown core, a shrine to the Oilers and to Rogers Communications. New memories will be created there, to be sure. It does leave one to wonder. What will the new building be like for fans? Will it be difficult to enjoy the team on the same level in a new environment? Season ticket holders will be glad. New, luxurious suites will be well appointed. Fans will have better sight lines, comfortable seats, and better food and beverage services, as well as conveniences that on old barn like Rexall can’t possess.
In the end, the Oilers and the city needed a new arena. If you’ve never been in the bowels of Rexall Place, you will see ancient pipes, balls of lint years old, a creaky freight elevator that serves the entire building—the list goes on. It’s an arena past its prime. Just like the Saskatchewan Roughriders hallowed Taylor Field, the site is as much a part of what people love about the team as the on field/on ice product they pay mighty high prices to see. Regina gets a new stadium soon, and Mosaic Stadium is beyond renovations, like way beyond. But there is history the generations who passed through shared–many peaks and valleys. A new stadium will be a new era, marked by a new team with new aspirations and goals.
The Edmonton Oilers may end their time at the current arena on the opposite end of where they began, at the bottom. They have two more seasons there, and it would be nice to send it off in to the sunset with a taste of the post season. Regardless, the grey, drab, windowless barn will be looked on with fondness. It’s the house the Wayne built.
P.S. Wayne will meet you out front at the new arena.