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Northlands Coliseum

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If you’re lucky, you may see it once or twice in your life. Every so often in the world of professional sports, a team comes along that is so good, so dominant and so game-changing that it can rightfully be called a dynasty. In Chicago, we like to talk about the Chicago Bulls of the 1990s. The New York Yankees — they owned baseball for decades at a time. And in the Boston area, people have lately been calling the New England Patriots a dynasty, a point that is hard to argue after their 2019 Super Bowl win. The NHL has had its share of dynasties as well — the Montreal Canadiens got there more than once, and the New York Islanders won four Stanley Cups in a row in the early 1980s. But what’s unusual about the Islanders is that they were front end of back-to-back NHL dynasties. The team that took their throne — the Edmonton Oilers — may have been the greatest dynasty in all of sports.

This is why Northlands Coliseum — also called Rexall Place, Edmonton Coliseum and Skyreach Centre at various times — stands high in the rankings of legendary NHL arenas. Consider:

  • In 1967, the Leafs beat the Montreal Canadiens 3-1 on home ice to win the Stanley Cup with a 4-2 series victory. It would be the last championship for Toronto to this day. 
  • In 1976, Darryl Sittler had a 10-point game against the Boston Bruins. With six goals and four assists, he led Toronto to an 11-4 win.
  • Not to be outdone, Ian Turnbull scored five goals in a game against the Detroit Red Wings in 1977, which still stands as a record for an NHL defenseman.
  • Loyal Maple Leafs fans: No unsold seats at the Gardens from 1946 until the team moved in 1999.
  • In the last NHL game played at the Gardens, the Maple Leafs faced the same opponent as they did in their first game there, the Chicago Blackhawks. History repeated itself and the Leafs lost. Nevertheless …
  • Maple Leafs fans had plenty of reasons to come out in droves over the years. Among the NHL superstars they saw lace up for the Leafs at the Gardens: Turk Broda, Johnny Bower, Hap Day, Red Kelly, Bill Barilko, Ace Bailey, King Clancy, Tim Horton, Ted Kennedy, Charlie Conacher, Doug Gilmour, Syl Apps, Dave Keon, Marcel Pronovost, Terry Sawchuck, Frank Mahovlich, Bernie Parent, Jacques Plante and Dave Andreychuk.
  • The saddest moment at the Forum was almost certainly the funeral of Howie Morenz, the legendary Canadiens center who tragically died at age 34, the result of an injury he suffered at the Forum in a game against the Chicago Blackhawks in 1937. No fewer than 50,000 fans paid their respects, with his casket having been placed at center ice.
  • Perhaps the most bittersweet moment at the Forum occurred in 1996, after the final game against the Stars. Maurice Richard, on hand for postgame activities, got a 16-minute standing ovation and began to cry.
  • Montreal Forum’s most violent moment — and a very long “moment” it was — had to be the epic Good Friday Massacre of 1984, in which the Canadiens and their arch rivals, the Quebec Nordiques, squared off in a playoff melee that resulted in 11 ejections and a whopping 252 minutes of penalty time. (The Canadiens won the game 5-3, thereby winning the series.)
  • Championships? Great games? Not enough space here to even start a discussion, considering the number of successes achieved by Canadiens teams over their decades at Montreal Forum. It’s wonderful a bit of the old arena still exists to help rekindle the great memories.
  • In 1980-81, the Islanders won the Stanley Cup, beating the Minnesota North Stars 4-1, and again winning the final game at the Coliseum.
  • In 1981-82, the Islanders won the Stanley Cup again, this time sweeping the Vancouver Canucks 4-0. (The only downside was the final game was played in Vancouver.)
  • In 1982-83, the Islanders won their fourth straight Stanley Cup, knocking off the Edmonton Oilers 4-0, and winning the final game of the series at home.
  • Rexall Place hosted 20 Stanley Cup Final games. The home team Oilers won 15 of them.
  • In 129 Stanley Cup playoff games played on Rexall Place ice, the Oilers won 87 times.
  • The Oilers played 1,428 games at Rexall Place, with a record of 735-512-125-56 (.578 winning percentage).
  • The Oilers scored 5,040 goals in the arena (giving up 4,382).
  • The Oilers won five Stanley Cups in seven years while tenants of Rexall Place: 1983-84, 1984-85, 1986-87, 1987-88 and 1989-90.
  • Wayne Gretzky, who led the dynasty Oilers, is arguably the greatest hockey player of all time, whose achievements still dominate the NHL record books. Gretzky’s 2,847 career points leads No. 2 Jaromir Jagr by more 900 points, and his 894 career goals tops No. 2 Gordie Howe (no slouch) by 93 — the list goes on and on and on. 

Rexall Place/Northlands Coliseum — History

Northlands Coliseum opened in 1974 and served Edmonton mainly as a hockey facility, having teams from a number of leagues as tenants in addition to the Oilers, who played there from 1974 to 2016. The seating capacity for hockey varied over the years, hovering around 17,000, give or take. 

The arena was known for its smooth ice, conducive to the fast skating, precision passing and skillful maneuvering that were hallmarks of the dynasty Oilers. If it was hard for other NHL teams to keep up with the offensive power of the Oilers on their home ice, it was all the more difficult when they played at Northlands.

In addition to the many Stanley Cup playoff games played at Rexall Place, the arena also hosted many hockey tournaments, including Canada Cups and World Junior Championships. Rexall also maintained a healthy schedule of concerts, attracting headliner acts such as Justin Timberlake, Taylor Swift, The Who and many others.  

As all NHL arenas eventually do, Northlands Coliseum aged to the point where, even with renovations, it made sense for the Oilers to find a new home. In 2016, the franchise moved to Rogers Place, with a hockey seating capacity exceeding 18,000, and all the modern bells and whistles that are necessities for NHL hockey teams and their fans. 

After the Oilers’ move to Rogers Place, Northlands Coliseum stayed open, with a limited number of events on its schedule. However, as Rogers Place quickly became the go-to venue in Edmonton for sports and entertainment, Northlands Coliseum’s revenues dried up and the arena closed in 2018. What will happen to the arena, so much a part of NHL history, remains unknown. 

(Image credit — Wikimedia Commons)