September 26, 2014
Edmonton is a festival city, but come the first snowfall of the season (and the five months preceding it) it’s all hockey, all the time. If you had to guess the bank PIN number of any local over the age of 30, there’s a good chance it might just be 9911. The eleven is for Mark Messier, Edmonton native and acclaimed NHL centre who began his career with the Oilers. The 99 is for “The Great One”, Wayne Gretzky, because we can’t talk about Edmonton Ice Hockey without mentioning the man who still holds the record for most career points in the NHL. Hometown hero and Oilers alumni Fernando Pisani sums up his favourite hockey memory as, “The Dynasty,” in reference to the late 1980’s roster that put Edmonton on the map. The Stanley Cup achievements of that young hockey team are woven into the cultural fabric of this city.
It’s been a few decades since that golden era, but the spirit hasn’t faded. Edmontonian’s hearts broke collectively in 1988 when Wayne was traded to the LA Kings, and once again in 2014 when long time veteran Ryan Smyth retired from the game of hockey. Edmonton is a city that bleeds Copper and Blue. However there’s a new bunch of boys in town by the names of Hall, Eberle and Nugent-Hopkins, all possessing the skill and grit to bring the title of “City of Champions” back into the collective vocabulary of the community. Furthermore, construction has begun on a state of the art arena and entertainment complex in downtown Edmonton. From a top-notch facility to a star-studded line-up, the future is bright for Edmonton Ice Hockey.
The Stanley Cup was first hoisted in 1984 when the Oilers beat defending champs the New York Islanders in the finals. The celebration took the city by storm and it was that first Cup that officially marked the beginning of The Dynasty. Local tailor Sam Abouhassan remembers the glory days fondly. He began making suits for the team back in 1979 when the Oilers joined the NHL. Sam drank from all five Stanley Cups won between 1983 and 1990, as that’s what happens when you make suits for a wedding party that includes Wayne Gretzky, Paul Coffey, Mark Messier, and Kevin Lowe. The slogan in the dressing room back then was that if you look good, you feel good, and you play better. These were some of the highest scoring players in the league and of all time, and arguably also the best dressed. On the subject of hockey Sam says, “we have a very long winter and our days are short. Hockey is the only game in town that binds the whole community together.”
All the action takes place at Rexall Place (formerly known as The Coliseum), which is also home to The Edmonton Oil Kings, a Western Hockey League affiliate and the 2014 Memorial Cup Champions. This year’s NHL home-opener is a battle of Alberta with the Oilers matched up against arch rivals the Calgary Flames. If you’re in town, do not wear red to the game unless you’ve got a thick skin and a good sense of humour. The last regular season game is scheduled for April 11th, though many are crossing their fingers that they will make it into the playoffs.
Ideal seats are located in the lower bowl, specifically those with Club Access. Pragmatically speaking, the lines are shorter for both the washrooms and beer. More importantly, you get to see the Oilers exit the dressing room and take to the ice. It’s from this vantage point that you’ll see just how huge these athletes are in person. Alternatively, save money for beverages and opt for seats in the upper bowl. The players look a bit smaller from up there, but you get a better view of the championship banners and retired numbers hanging in the rafters.
A true game day experience requires a pre-game meal at Coliseum Pizza & Steak. The decor is humble, but this no frills pizza place is steeped in history, a venue ex-Oilers still frequent today. Open since 1976, some of the original staff still work here, so you’re guaranteed a story or two if you ask nicely. Pro tip: call ahead to make a reservation because it gets very busy prior to the puck drop. If you’re looking for more modern cuisine, The Common is located near Grandin LRT station. Have dinner at the gastro-lounge then join the sea of Oil fans heading to Coliseum station via public transport.
No organised sports day would be complete without a celebratory pint. Edmonton is a big city, but still small enough to bump into players celebrating post game wins on any given night. You might find the boys at The Billiard Club, or perhaps the Cactus Club Cafe on Jasper Avenue. These guys are professional athletes, but they’re also just good old Edmontonians going about their daily life. If you don’t have tickets to the game, consider calling The Pint Downtown your headquarters for the evening.
Fancy a game of shinny hockey outdoors? Edmonton is a winter city and truly embraces it. Frost stops no one here! This was best demonstrated on a chilly day in November 2003 when approximately 57,000 fans gathered at Commonwealth Stadium to watch the first ever outdoor regular season NHL game against the Montreal Canadiens. It was about -30 Celsius for the better part of the day, but that’s Edmonton for you. You can recreate your own outdoor tournament at numerous rinks in the city. For a stunning backdrop of the downtown skyline, visit Cloverdale Community League arena. Rent your skates at Totem Sports Supply for $10 a day, or $20 for a three-day weekend rental. For a real pond hockey vibe, Hawrelak Park gives you a surprising dose of nature right in the middle of the city. Skates are available for rent at both Hawrelak Park, and Its urban cousin, the rink at City Hall. It’s the perfect summer wading pool, though most locals prefer its winter incarnation. Edmonton is hockey crazy enough to even build a full size skating rink in the middle of a shopping mall. The Ice Palace in West Edmonton Mall is the perfect getaway for when temperatures drop.
Whether you’re an avid hockey fan or an urban sociologist perplexed by the fervour produced by organized sports, Edmonton is absolutely the location to live out your ice related dreams. From game day at Rexall to skating laps at City Hall, the only hold up might be the zamboni clearing ice.
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Have you experienced the world of Edmonton Ice Hockey? Have you mastered skating yourself? Let us know in the comments section below.
Written by Tara Gaucher