As far as physical spaces are concerned, the new home of the Edmonton Oilers is everything that fans were promised.
It’s bright. It’s shiny. It’s spacious. It’s nothing like Rexall, for better or for worse. Despite being a staunch supporter of the “character” of Rexall’s grey concrete walls and floors, I must concede that Rogers Place simply feels better to be in. The high ceilings make it feel less cramped than the old barn. Even the post-game shoulder-to-shoulder logjams don’t feel as claustrophobic. While the corridors of Rexall Place felt akin to large tunnels, Rogers Place has designed these spaces to feel more like sprawling, open hallways.
It’s a nice change, though the atmosphere in the stands is markedly different than in the old building. It’s not a criticism, merely an observation. The crowd in Rogers Place is a lot quieter and more reserved than the Rexall Place mob. Attending an Oilers game at Rexall Place was always a raw and visceral experience. Unless the Oilers failed to “show up”, the crowd hovered in perpetuity around a dull roar composed of individual shouts of support, protest, or criticism. As entertaining as the game unfolding on the ice might have been, the collection of game-day characters scattered throughout the stands was always comparably intriguing. Some were drunk, some sober, some clever, and some less so. But they all contributed to the atmosphere inside the rink.
On one occasion in 2011, I attended an Oilers vs Predators game where the first 10,000 in attendance received Jordan Eberle mini-sticks. Needless to say, I arrived early. A pair of gentlemen who looked to be in their 40’s were sitting behind my friend and I, and we chatted with them as we were waiting for the game to start. Fast forward an hour to the halfway mark of the first period, and they were each several more beers into what had all the visual properties of committed binge drinking. With each clear plastic cup of twelve-dollar arena draught they grew more vociferous, until another gentleman several rows back took umbrage with their impromptu colour commentary. Several threats of bodily harm were exchanged back and forth, ending with one of the intoxicated men holding his Eberle mini-stick high over his head and making a vehement pledge to give the man a colonoscopy with it . And they were cheering for the same team, I will remind you.
The crowd at Rogers Place isn’t quite as colourful. They celebrate every Oilers goal with comparable intensity, certainly. But during play there are less individual voices ringing out. There are fewer comedians bringing their rows to laughter. There is less of a feral intensity in the stands. Perhaps this is a good thing, given the reputation hockey fans have earned from all of the playoff celebrations/riots in various Canadian hockey cities.So for new initiates to the sport, the inviting and restrained atmosphere of Rogers Place is certain to be less jarring. But for lifelong fans of the sport (and the Oilers, in particular) perhaps something has been lost. Or perhaps the truth lies somewhere between the two ideas.