Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Toronto Maple Leafs 4 at Edmonton Oilers 2 - November 29, 2016


It is still early in the NHL season, but the Edmonton Oilers are finally reaping the benefits of so many first-overall picks, leading the Pacific Division at the quarter pole. Their success comes just in time as they have moved into a brand-new downtown arena, which means expensive tickets, and if they want fans to keep coming, the team needs to win. Rogers Place (not to be confused with Rogers Arena in Vancouver) is part of a large revitalization project that will be known as the ICE District when it is complete.



The building is located at the corner of 104th Avenue NW and 104th Street NW, on the north edge of downtown Edmonton. It is a huge structure that stretches down the entire block and at the very end crosses over the street as you can see below. Note the Mercer sign; this building houses the Mercer Pub, which is a great pregame spot for a drink or two.



The extension shown above houses Ford Hall, which is really just the main lobby (below) as well as the Molson Canadian Hockey House, the entrance of which can be seen in the distance.



Access is easy via the LRT system, with a station just three blocks away, though parking seems simple to find too. The main entrance to the arena is a few steps east along the avenue, where you will also find the iconic Gretzky statue. After walking up a couple of staircases, you will enter Ford Hall, where you will also find the box office.



The main gate is here too, and arranged similar to airport security as you can see above. It works well enough, though I arrived an hour before puck drop, so am not sure if it gets more crowded closer to game time.



Fellow sports traveller Gary has a friend in Edmonton named Jim who was kind enough to procure a ticket for me, and he took me around the two concourses. The lower bowl is much more spacious as you can see in the photo above, taken from the escalator to the upper bowl. It is more of an open design than the typical NHL rink, with large concession stands all around.



There are a couple of cool artworks on the walls highlighting the two greatest Oilers in history, including Mark Messier (above).



The lower seating bowl is typical of new rinks, with club seats comprising the four sections between the goal lines on both sides. If you want to see the warmup, you'll have to enter one of the corner sections. The suites hang above the last row of the lower bowl, and the upper bowl is quite steep as you can see below.



This means that the view from the upper deck (level 7) is not that bad, even though there are two levels of suites. This is a pretty nice setup for a new downtown venue. As an aside, if you do have upper level seats and arrive late, take the stairs or elevator up as the lineup for the escalator gets quite long. The upper concourse also gets very busy during intermissions so if you need to use the facilities, best to do so during one of the TV timeouts.



During the first intermission, Jim took me to his company's suite and we watched the second period from there. That's the view below. Pretty posh.



Of course, the Oilers many, many banners have been moved from Rexall Place. It is a bit of overkill to have four banners from the same season though. (I believe that teams should only have one banner to celebrate their top accomplishment that season, which had better be a championship of some sort. For example, teams in baseball commemorating wild cards is ridiculous.)



Despite the braggadocio, I was impressed with the new digs. The arena is in a great location that will only get better as the ICE District comes into being. There are a lot of seating options, though it does seem like a lot of the old fans have been priced out, with top level seats close to $100.  Unfortunately, that is the way sports are trending, with casual and corporate fans taking over the best seats and the more serious fans relegated to the nosebleeds. At least here, the nosebleeds are actually pretty decent.

The Game



The Leafs scored just over five minutes in when Auston Matthews poked home a great pass from Michael Nylander just as an Edmonton penalty expired for the only goal of the first period. Early in the second, James Van Riemsdyk was left alone in front of Cam Talbot and converted on his second chance while the Edmonton defense watched helplessly. The Oilers responded quickly on a point shot from Andrej Sekera that beat Frederick Andersen (above in the warmup) two minutes after, but just over a minute later Leo Komarov did some great work on the forecheck and passed to Nazem Kadri who slid the puck past Talbot. Late in the period, after the Leafs had killed a 5-on-3, Zach Hyman backhanded a rebound home that Talbot should have stopped and it was 4-1 entering the third.



Talbot (life-size bobblehead above), having given up 4 goals on 14 shots, was replaced by ex-Leaf Jonas Gustavsson to start the final frame, and when Connor McDavid scored a beauty just 4 minutes in, it looked like the Leafs might be on their way to another road collapse. But Andersen made a couple of big saves and the Oilers took a late penalty to end their chances as the Leafs held on to win 4-2, only their second road win of the season. They are now 13-13-4 in my first visit to a road rink.



Notes

Remaining a member of Club 122 is not easy. There are four new venues this winter, the Braves are opening a new stadium next year, the Red Wings and Pistons are moving to Little Caesars Arena for the 2017-18 season, and the Vegas Golden Knights are starting operations as well (so it will be Club 123 then). The upshot is that the blog will be around for another year or two at least. In fact, it might stay around long enough that blogs will become fashionable again!

Club 122 is not my only quest as I want to see the Leafs in every road rink and I still have Carolina, Phoenix, and Vegas to complete that. I also need to visit Buffalo, Vancouver, and Detroit after that to see them in every current rink, though that is not as much of a priority.

Next Up

I'm in Calgary and just watched the Leafs shutout by the Flames who scored two in the first minute. I should have stayed at the bar to watch the TFC game. There won't be a post on the Leafs loss since I saw the same matchup back in 2012, but tomorrow I'm off to Minneapolis for the Cowboys and Vikings in another new Club 122 venue, so check back Friday for a recap of that.

Best,

Sean

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