Although they've reached the Stanley Cup Finals just once since 1990, the Oilers will forever be remembered in the New York Tri-State Area for being 3 things:
1. The team from whom several members of the New York Rangers' 1994 Cup team came.
2. The team that ended the New York Islanders' dynasty in 1984.
3. The team that Wayne Gretzky took into the Meadowlands on November 19, 1983, in the Devils' 2nd season, and pounded us 13-4, and Gretzky then called us "a Mickey Mouse operation." (This, from a guy who hadn't won a Stanley Cup yet. True, he then won 4 in 5 years, but since 1988, as player, coach and owner, the total is Devils 3, Gretzky 0.)
Before You Go. At 53 degrees, 32 minutes North latitude, Edmonton has the northernmost venue in North America's 4 major sports leagues (unless you count the Canadian Football League, in which case the Edmonton Eskimos' Commonwealth Stadium is slightly further north). And this is mid-January. It will be cold. Damn cold. The Edmonton Sun is predicting that temperatures will be about 13 degrees below zero most of Thursday. If you're not willing to bundle up like you've never bundled up before, you may want to forget this trip for this season.
This is Canada, so you will need your passport. You will need to change your money. At this writing, C$1.00 = US 76 cents, and US$1.00 = C$1.32. And I advise you to call your bank and let them know that you will be in a foreign country, so they won't see credit or debit card purchases from a foreign country pop up and think your card has been stolen.
Also, remember that they use the metric system. A speed limit of 100 kilometers per hour means 62 miles an hour. And don't be fooled by the seemingly low gas prices: That's per liter, not per gallon, and, in spite of Canada being a major oil-producing nation, you'll actually be paying more for gas up there. So, in order to avoid both confusion and "sticker-shock," get your car filled up before you reach the border.
Edmonton is in the Mountain Time Zone, so they are 2 hours behind New York and New Jersey. Adjust your timepieces accordingly.
Tickets. The Oilers averaged 16,841 fans per home game last season, their last in the old arena, just short of a sellout. You might expect this from not just a Canadian city, but perhaps the most hockey-mad city west of Toronto (and, yes, I'm including Detroit, America's "Hockeytown"). This is the hometown of Mark Messier and Ken Daneyko. In their 1st season in the new arena, they're averaging 18,347, but that's short of a sellout: About 98.4 percent of capacity.
Oilers tickets are expensive. Seats in the lower level, the 100 sections, are $347 between the goals and $325 behind them. In the upper level, the 200 sections, they're $112 and $96. And since that comes from ticketmaster.ca, that's in Canadian dollars, so they're probably a little less expensive to us than that.
Getting There. It's 2,425 miles from Times Square to downtown Edmonton (341 miles from the closest border crossing, at Babb, Montana), and 2,423 miles from the Prudential Center in Newark to Rogers Place. Naturally, your first thought would be to fly. So flying is easily the best way to get there. You can fly Air Canada from Newark to Edmonton and back, changing planes in Toronto, for $620.
Taking Greyhound takes 70 hours, and forces you to change buses twice going out, 3 times coming back in:
Leave New York 7:30 PM Monday
Arrive Toronto 5:45 AM Tuesday (7 hour, 15 minute layover, change buses)
Leave Toronto 1:00 PM Tuesday
Arrive Winnipeg 7:45 PM Wednesday (45 minute layover, change buses)
Leave Winnipeg 8:30 PM Wednesday
Arrive Edmonton 3:40 PM Thursday
Game in Edmonton 7:00 PM Thursday
Game ends around 9:30 PM Thursday (3 hours, 15 minutes to catch bus)
Leave Edmonton 12:45 AM Friday
Arrive Winnipeg 9:55 PM Saturday (20 minute layover, change buses)
Leave Winnipeg 10:15 PM Saturday
Arrive Toronto 5:10 PM Sunday (1 hour, 50 minute layover, change buses)
Leave Toronto 7:00 PM Sunday
Arrive Buffalo 9:45 PM Sunday (1 hour, 30 minute layover change buses)
Arrive New York 10:15 PM Monday
New York to Edmonton can be $524 round-trip, but it can drop to $482 with advanced purchase. The Greyhound station is at 11041 105th Avenue NW at 111th Street.
Forget the train, because the Toronto-to-Vancouver train runs every other day, and you would arrive either 36 hours before puck-drop, or 15 hours after the final horn. At any rate, the Edmonton station for VIA Rail Canada is at 12360 121st Street NW.
Would driving be better? You tell me: You'll need to get into New Jersey, and take Interstate 80 West. You'll be on I-80 for the vast majority of the trip, through New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Ohio. In Ohio, in the western suburbs of Cleveland, I-80 will merge with Interstate 90. From this point onward, you won't need to think about I-80 until you head home; I-90 is now the key, through the rest of Ohio and Indiana.
Just outside Chicago, I-80 will split off from I-90, which you will keep, until it merges with Interstate 94. For the moment, though, you will ignore I-94. Stay on I-90 through Illinois, until reaching Madison, Wisconsin, where you will once again merge with I-94. Now, I-94 is what you want, taking it into Minnesota and the Twin Cities.
However, unless you want to make a rest stop actually in Minneapolis or St. Paul, you're going to bypass them entirely. Take Exit 249 to get on Interstate 694, the Twin Cities' beltway, until you merge with Interstate 494 to reform I-94. Crossing Minnesota into North Dakota, you'll take Exit 256 to U.S. Route 52 West, and take that up to the Canadian border.
Presuming you don't do anything stupid that makes Customs officials keep you out of Canada, U.S. 52 will continue as Saskatchewan Provincial Route 39. At Weyburn, you'll turn right on Provincial Route 35. At Francis, you'll turn left on Provincial Route 33. At the Provincial Capital of Regina, you'll take the Trans-Canada Highway, which you'll take to Provincial Route 11. Stay on that after it becomes Provincial Route 16. At Saskatoon, follow the signs to stay on Route 16, and take that into Alberta, where it will remain Provincial Route 16. Take 101st St NW to 104th Ave NW, and the arena will be on your right.
If you do it right, you should spend about an hour and a half in New Jersey, 5 hours and 15 minutes in Pennsylvania, 4 hours in Ohio, 2 and a half hours in Indiana, an hour and a half in Illinois, 2 and a half hours in Wisconsin, 4 and a half hours in Minnesota, 6 hours in North Dakota, 13 and a half hours in Saskatchewan (believe it, it's over 800 miles), and 4 hours in Alberta. That's 45 hours and 15 minutes. Throw in rest stops, and we're talking closer to 62 hours -- 2 and a half days. You'd have to really love both driving and hockey, and not mind cold weather, to do that.
And, on October 14, 2016, President Obama finally ended the ban on bringing Cuban cigars into America. This also applies to rum, for which Cuba is also renowned. It is still considerably easier to buy these items in Canada than in America, but, now, you can bring them back over the border.
Once In the City. Located on the Saskatchewan River, Fort Edmonton, a fur-trading post, was founded in 1795, but not incorporated until 1892, making it the youngest city in all of North American major league sports. (The youngest of the U.S. cities with at least 2 teams is Phoenix, founded in 1881.) It is Alberta's Provincial capital.
Alberta Legislature Building
Named for a village in England's historic county of Middlesex (now a part of North London), the name meaning Eadhelm's Town, Alberta's capital and 2nd-largest city has over 1,060,000 people, but adding the suburbs only makes it 1.3 million -- a familiar pattern in Canada, except for its 3 biggest cities of Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver.
Edmonton has East-West numbered Avenues and North-South numbered Streets -- the exact opposite of Manhattan. Anthony Henday Drive (named for an English explorer of Western Canada, effectively Canada's "Lewis & Clark") divides the city into North and South. But while there are streets with NW and SW suffixes, there's no NE and SE.
And the Alberta Legislature Building, roughly the focal point of the city, is at 97th Avenue NW and 107th Street NW. Go figure. That's like if New York City had the same street grid, but City Hall were at the Willowbrook Mall in Wayne, New Jersey. (A town named after American Revolution hero General Anthony Wayne, not Wayne Gretzky.)
The sales tax in the Province of Alberta is 5 percent, and it doesn't go up in the City of Edmonton. The city has buses and light rail, and a single fare is $3.20 (which works out to about $2.40, so it's cheaper than New York's).
Going In. The brand-new Rogers Place is at 10220 104th Avenue NW, at 103rd Street. The naming rights ties Canadian TV network Rogers Sportsnet, already with its name on Toronto's former SkyDome (Rogers Centre) and Vancouver's former General Motors Place (Rogers Arena) with AT&T for the most North American sports buildings with naming rights: 3.
It's already been nicknamed the "Rog Mahal."
It can be reached by light rail, at MacEwan Station, as it's adjacent to MacEwan University. So it's much more convenient than the old arena, beyond simply being newer and more comfortable. If you're driving in, parking will be C$15.
The arena claims the largest scoreboard in the NHL: 46 feet long by 46 feet wide by 36 feet high. It is shared by the Oilers and their top farm team, the Edmonton Oil Kings of the Western Hockey League. The rink runs east-to-west. The Oilers attack twice toward the west goal.
Food. In 2010, the Northlands Coliseum, then known as Rexall Place -- kind of ironic for a place named after a drugstore chain -- was cited for multiple health code violations, making it the unhealthiest sports venue in Canada, and possibly in all of North America. (I guess the inspectors have never had the hot dogs at RFK Stadium.)
But now, the Oilers are in Rogers Place, and they've got lots of good stuff, run by Aramark, the successor company to Harry M. Stevens. Unfortunately, while their arena website shows locations of concession stands, they don't get specific. But they offer the following:
104 Avenue Food Company: Pulled Pork Burrito, Short Rib Taco, Yeg Nacho Grande (YEG is the airport code for Edmonton -- all Canadian airport codes start with Y).
Alberta Smoked: Brisket Sandwich, Pulled Pork Sandwich, The Stack (looks like brisket, onions, peppers and cole slaw, all on one sandwich). There's also an Alberta Smoked on the Upper Concourse.
Bobby Nick's Grill: Bobby Nick's Burger, Veggie Burger, Bavarian Pretzel, Garlic Fries, Chicken Tenders & Fries.
Ice Cafe: Hot Rum Buns (apparently, a cross between cinnamon rolls and rum cake).
Link 72: Bratwurst.
Molson Canadian Fan Deck: Roast Alberta Prime Rib Sandwich (includes pickles), Perogy Nachos (I'm glad they have pierogi -- like cannoli, it's plural without the S -- but I wish they'd spell it right).
Pizza 73: Pizza by the Slice, Chicken Tenders & Fries. There's also a Pizza 73 on the Upper Concourse.
Urban Curry: Butter Chicken and Chick Pea, Curry Navy Bean (comes with kale and garam masala).
Whyte Avenue Bistro: Bavarian Pretzel, Perogy Dog (a hot dog with shredded cheese and mini pierogi), Chicken Tenders & Fries.
Alberta Cuts: Roast Alberta Prime Rib Sandwich, Porchetta Sandwich.
Jasper Avenue Eatery: Bavarian Pretzel, Chicken Tenders & Fries.
Sticks: Red Thai Curry Chicken, Teriyaki Beef.
Whitemud Kitchen (doesn't sound too appetizing): Bavarian Pretzel, Potato Tottine (a variation on Quebec's contribution to indigestion, poutine, with tater tots instead of fries and the addition of green onions), Chicken Tenders & Fries.
Team History Displays. The Oilers have won 5 Stanley Cups, and reached the Stanley Cup Finals 7 times, winning in 1984, 1985, 1987, 1988 and 1990, and losing in 1983 and 2006. They've won the President's Trophy for best overall record in the regular season in 1984, 1986 and 1987, and 9 Division Championships: 1979 (the last season of the WHA), 1983, 1984, 1985, 1987, 1988, 1990, 1991 and 1992.
In addition to the 5 Stanley Cups, the Edmonton Oil Kings, now an Oilers farm team, have won the Memorial Cup, the championship of Canadian junior hockey, in 1963, 1966 and 2014.
The Cup win banners are white with black lettering, the Conference and Division title banners are orange with blue lettering, and the President's Trophy banners are blue with white lettering. The banners are arranged in chronological order, not by type and then by chronology. This makes for a weird color pattern, but it's 24 banners, which is a lot, considering they didn't win their 1st until 1979.
Last season, they honored Glen Sather, general manager for all 5 Cups and head coach for the 1st 4 (John Muckler was head coach for 1990), with a banner featuring an image of 5 Cups. He was a defenseman for the Oilers in their WHA days and wore Number 6. It is but it has not been retired.
Hamilton, Sather, Messier, Gretzky, Paul Shmyr, and the great goalie Jacques Plante, who closed his career with the Oilers, were named to the WHA's All-Time Team. Gretzky, Messier, Kurri, Coffey and Fuhr were named to The Hockey News' 100 Greatest Players in 1998.
Gretzky and Messier have received the Lester Patrick Trophy for contributions to hockey in America. Gretzky has been named to Canada's Walk of Fame, although no other Oiler has -- not even Messier. Gretzky and Kurri have been elected to the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) Hall of Fame.
A statue of Gretzky holding up the Stanley Cup is outside the arena. The highway to the east of the Northlands Coliseum, named Fort Road outside of the arena's vicinity, is Wayne Gretzky Drive.
Stuff. As with their previous arena, the arena website makes no mention of where in the building a team store might be. They say only this:
Rogers Place has conveniently located retail locations throughout the venue. All retail locations offer a wide variety of licensed products for every Edmonton Oilers and Oil Kings game. For concerts and other events, please see the nearest Guest Services Centre for all event-specific merchandise locations.
You would think that, having had "the greatest player in hockey history" (he wasn't: Both Gordie Howe and Bobby Orr were greater than Gretzky), there'd be a lot of books about the Oilers, especially in their glory years. Not really. No wonder Number 99 left for Hollywood: It was all about him, not the great team around him that, lest we forget, won a Cup without him in 1990 (although not since). K. Michael Gaschnitz published the not-particularly-imaginatively-titled book The Edmonton Oilers in 2003.
There is a 10 Greatest Games DVD collection for the Oilers. It contains the 1984, 1985 and 1987 Stanley Cup clinchers, the 1981 game in which Gretzky reached 50 goals in only his 39th game of the season, the 1984 Finals Game 1 win that signaled the end of the Islander Dynasty, Gretzky's shorthanded overtime goal in overtime in Game 2 of the 1988 Finals, the overtime win in Game 1 of the 1990 Finals, the 1991 Game 7 Playoff win over the hated Flames, a 1997 Playoff Game 7 overtime winner over Dallas, and the franchise's last Stanley Cup Finals win, the overtime Game 5 over Carolina in 2006.
During the Game. A November 19, 2014 article on The Hockey News' website ranked the NHL teams' fan bases, and listed the Oilers' fans 5th, behind Toronto, Chicago, Montreal and Vancouver: "So bad for so long, and fans keep filling up Rexall Place. Amazing patience." Especially when you consider that, when the Islanders' Cup drought had gotten as long as the Oilers' is now, their arena was so quiet (How quiet was it?), it was nicknamed the Nassau Mausoleum.
If you were wearing a Calgary Flames jersey, you might have a problem. Maybe a Vancouver Canucks or a Toronto Maple Leafs jersey. Other than that, I don't think Edmonton fans will bother you. You should be safe.
Mark Lewis has been the public-address announcer since 1981, just in time to see the Oiler dynasty begin. I don't know if that makes him the longest-serving PA announcer in the NHL, although with the death of Budd Lynch in Detroit, it might. He is certainly one of the most admired in the game. He, his wife, and 2 business partners own an Edmonton restaurant, Café de Ville, at 10137 124th Street NW, about 2 miles west of the arena.
Also starting in 1981 was Paul Lorieau, an optician by trade, who sang the National Anthems at Oilers games. However, he retired in 2011 due to a battle with cancer, and died 2 years later. Now, opera singer Robert Clark is their regular anthem singer.
The Oilers' goal song is "Don't Stop the Party" by Pitbull. You can't get much more of a shift in climate, at least not in North America, from Pitbull's Miami to the Oilers' Edmonton. Oilers fans don't have much in the way of chants, sticking with the easy "Let's go, Oilers!" No, they do not add, "Flames suck, Canucks swallow!" Don't give them any ideas.
Until 2010, none of the NHL's Canadian-based teams had cheerleaders/dancers/Ice Girls. That changed when the Edmonton franchise added a group called Oilers Octane. There are 19 of them, and the reaction to them has been mixed: Some fans like them, some hate the very concept, and take it out on them.
There are several eateries and bars within a 3-block walk of the arena on each side, but aside from a Starbucks just to the east of the arena, there don't appear to be any chain restaurants.
If your visit to Edmonton is during the European soccer season (which we are now in), the best place to watch your favorite club is at The Pint Public House, 10125 109 Street NW, about a mile west of downtown. Light rail to Corona.
Sidelights. If Americans know one thing about Edmonton, it's Gretzky. If they know another, it's the world's largest mall. Except it isn't the world's largest anymore. Here are some things you should know about Edmonton, especially if you're a sports fan:
* Northlands Coliseum. Also known at various times as the Edmonton Coliseum, the Skyreach Centre and Rexall Place, the old Oliers arena is northeast of downtown about 3 1/2 miles.
The 501 light rail goes from Grandin Station to Coliseum Station, and takes 17 minutes. The address is 10220 104th Avenue NW, at 103rd Street NW. A shopping mall, Edmonton EXPO Center at Northlands, is across 118th Avenue.
The Blue Mile, or the Copper Kilometre, is the name given by the local media to the Old Strathcona District's Whyte Avenue during the 2006 Stanley Cup Playoff run, since it closely resembled the events which took place on the Red Mile of arch-rival Calgary 2 years earlier. Following the Oilers' upset victory over the Detroit Red Wings in the 1st round, several thousand Oiler fans flocked to Whyte Avenue and turned the district into a hockey party strip, walking the streets cheering, chanting, high-fiving, horn-honking, and flag-waving for their team. Others surfed the crowd in a grocery-shopping cart, and still others climbed trees and traffic lights.
It had the unique status as the only NHL arena with the player benches on the same side as the TV cameras. With the Northlands having passed into NHL history (if still standing), now, in all NHL venues, the TV cameras are on the same side as the scorekeepers table and penalty boxes.
* Commonwealth Stadium. Not to be confused with the football stadium of the same name at the University of Kentucky, this stadium was built to host the 1978 Commonwealth Games. Having once had a capacity of over 60,000, it's now at 56,302.
The Canadian Football League's Edmonton Eskimos have played here since it opened, and have won 9 Grey Cups, the CFL's Super Bowl, since moving in: 1978, 1979, 1980, 1981, 1982, 1987, 1993, 2003 and 2005. Yes, they won 5 straight titles, the only time it's happened in Canadian football, led by quarterback Warren Moon. Yes, that Warren Moon. It's "the Pro Football Hall of Fame," not "the National Football League Hall of Fame."
Yes, the seats' color scheme looks weird,
but those are the Esks' colors.
The Grey Cup has been played there 4 times: In 1984, 1997, 2002 and 2010. Like the Super Bowl, its site is chosen in advance, in the hope of getting a neutral site; but, with the CFL having only 9 teams, the chance of a host team playing in it is a lot higher than in the Super Bowl.
The Eskimos have hosted it, in 2002, but lost to Montreal. Edmonton also hosted Montreal in a 2003 hockey doubleheader at Commonwealth Stadium, starting the NHL's "new tradition" of outdoor games, preceded by an old-timers' game between the 1980s Oilers and the 1970s Canadiens -- 11 Stanley Cups between them. The Oilers won the old-timers' game, but the Canadiens won the regular game, best remembered for Montreal goalie Jose Theodore wearing a "toque," or a ski cap, with a Canadiens logo, over his regulation helmet.
(Apparently, he checked with the NHL office, and was allowed to wear it during a game. The NHL appears to have less of a fetish for uniform restrictions than the NFL.)
The Edmonton Drillers of the old North American Soccer League played there, and FC Edmonton of the new NASL now uses it for games that exceed the capacity of Clarke Stadium. It was also one of the venues for Canada's hosting of the 2015 Women's World Cup. 11000 Stadium Road, at 112th Avenue. Stadium station on the light rail.
* Clarke Stadium. Built in 1938, this was the first home of the Eskimos, from 1946 to 1977. They won 4 Grey Cups here: 1954, 1955, 1956 and 1975. So they won the 1st 3 Grey Cups after the CFL was founded, and the 1st 5 after they moved next-door into Commonwealth Stadium. (Maybe they should move again, so they can win again.)
The original stadium was demolished, and a much smaller stadium, with 6,000 seats, was built on the site. FC Edmonton uses it for most home games, but would likely have to use Commonwealth if they want to think about moving up to Major League Soccer.
* RE/MAX Field. This 10,000-seat ballpark, formerly Edmonton Ballpark and Telus Field for Canada's largest phone company, opened in 1995, for the Edmonton Trappers of the Pacific Coast League. However, it has been without a permanent tenant since the close of the 2011 season. 10233 96th Avenue at Rossdale Road, at the southern edge of downtown, east of the Legislature. Number 9 bus.
According to an article in the May 12, 2014 New York Times, the most popular NBA team in Edmonton is easily the Los Angeles Lakers, well ahead of runners-up the Miami Heat and the Boston Celtics.
* Old Strathcona. Once the commercial core of the separate city of Strathcona, the area is now Edmonton's main arts and entertainment district, as well as a local shopping hub for local residents and students at the nearby University of Alberta. Many of the area's businesses are owner-operated, but chains have also made inroads in the neighborhood. A good proportion of Edmonton's theaters and live-performance venues are also located in the area. The district centres on Whyte Avenue, formerly 82nd Avenue.
The University of Alberta has won the University Cup, the championship of Canadian collegiate hockey, 15 times: In 1964, 1968, 1975, 1978, 1979, 1980, 1986, 1992, 1999, 2000, 2005, 2006, 2008, 2014 and 2015.
* Royal Alberta Museum. Just as the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) is Eastern Canada's most important museum, so is the Royal Alberta Museum (RAM) the most important in Western Canada. Its natural history exhibits make it an analogue to New York's American Museum of Natural History. 12845 102nd Avenue NW at Wellington Crescent. Bus 1 or 5.
* Muttart Conservatory. This botanical garden is noted for its pyramid-shaped greenhouses. 9626 96A Street NW at 96th Avenue. Number 2 or 5 bus to 96th Street and Jasper Avenue, then walk across the North Saskatchewan River. Or it can be reached on foot, taking the Connors Road bridge over the river; between the bus and hoofing it, walking all the way would take about the same amount of time.
* West Edmonton Mall. From 1981 until 2004, this was the largest shopping mall in the world. It's still the largest in North America, ahead of even the Mall of America outside Minneapolis. It includes theme parks Galaxyland, World Waterpark, Sea Lions Park and an NHL-sized rink called the Ice Palace. The Oilers previously used it as a practice facility. 8882 170th Street NW. Number 2 bus.
Edmonton is not big on skyscrapers: The 15 tallest buildings in Alberta are all in Calgary. The tallest building in Edmonton is the EPCOR Tower, at 10423 101st Street NW at 103rd Avenue, and it isn't even 500 feet tall (490). However, the Stantec Tower is currently under construction, and when it opens (currently scheduled for 2019), it will be the tallest in Alberta, and the tallest in Canada west of Toronto, at 823 feet. 102nd Street NW and 103rd Avenue NW, a block south of Rogers Place.
Edmonton has never produced a Prime Minister. The Province of Alberta has, 3 of them. But 2, R.B. Bennett in the 1930s and the recently defeated Stephen Harper, represented ridings in Calgary, and Joe Clark was from Yellowhead, in the western part of the Province. So there's no historic site relating to any of them anywhere near Edmonton.
There have been a few movies with scenes shot in Edmonton, including the Ginger Snaps films and Good Luck Chuck. I didn't say they were good movies... (The latter starred Dane Cook, a comedian and a Red Sox fan, and not particularly funny at either. Even Jessica Alba couldn't save this movie.) And any TV shows set there would be shown on Canadian TV only, and would be unfamiliar to U.S. audiences.
Edmonton has hockey, a big mall, and the Royal Alberta Museum. That's about it. But you might have a good time there anyway.