For some Oilers alumni, it’s hard to pinpoint some of the small memories among the larger and more celebrated ones, but for Ryan Smyth, who retired from the game just two seasons ago, there are too many memories to count.
“There’s so many great moments,” he said. “Game 6 [of the] Stanley Cup Final, against Carolina, was probably our best game. The fans were electrifying, the stadium was — I thought the roof was going to come off!”
From the 2006 Stanley Cup run, where Smyth lost three of his teeth in Game 3 during the second round against the San Jose Sharks, to fans tossing steaks onto the ice, the 40-year-old is flooded with nostalgia.
“Not too long ago I saw the goal that [Ales Hemsky] scored with seconds left with [Jarrett Stoll] making the play to me on the blueline and just chipping it out,” he said, recalling the game-tying goal on January 4, 2007 after Dallas Stars forward Patrik Stefan misfired on the empty Edmonton net. “It’s little things along the way that you pick up and remember.”
When it comes time to say farewell to Rexall Place on April 6, Smyth recognizes the wave of emotions that will consume much of Oil Country.
“A lot of tears,” he said. “It’s more than just a hockey rink. There’s history with the old Oilers, the guys that paved the way for us, that have won Cups for these guys that are on the ice now. For sure it’s mixed emotions.”
When you build your dream home, it’s always a bittersweet feeling moving out of the old house.
That’s how Kevin Lowe, Vice Chair of Oilers Entertainment Group, sees the upcoming transition from Rexall Place to Rogers Place.
“I’ve had a couple years thinking about it, taking time to reflect about all the memories here; personally, I’m so excited about the new building I can’t say I’m going to miss this building,” he said. “It had its time and it was a good place but the amenities for the fans and for the players, and the fact that the building is going to be downtown, it just puts aside any of the disappointment from leaving here.”
That’s not to say Lowe won’t have fond memories. After all, those memories are what have made the aged building one to remember. Aside from the numerous Stanley Cup runs that Lowe and the Oilers made when he was a defenceman with the team for 13 seasons, the arena has witnessed plenty more modern highlights.
“I think all the series, those ’90s teams, those series against Dallas, those were incredible series,” he said. “That was the David [versus] Goliath era and that’s when I think the demographic of our fan base really changed. It was a younger demographic and the building was louder than it ever was, even in the ’80s. Hockey was changing.”
In addition to the lifelong loyalists from the Oilers dynasty days, Lowe said he’s noticed a new era of fans emerge from the rafters and the important role they play for the Edmonton team moving forward.
“We’ve created a whole new fan,” he said. “We’re seeing it now. I run into kids, some of them don’t even know who Wayne Gretzky is. That’s not a bad thing, it just means life moves on, but the ’06 run was a chance for a whole new fan base. A whole new group of Oilers fans to have their time and be proud of their team and not listen to their parents or their grandparents [talk] about the ’80s.
From the top row at centre ice, a young Dave Semenko slipped into the newly built Northlands Coliseum to sit down and take in the arena view.
Little did he know, three years later, Semenko would be playing on that very surface he stepped in to admire.
“When I played junior in Brandon [Wheat Kings] we played against the Oil Kings in the old building [Edmonton Gardens],” he said. “I wandered over here, and the building was open, and I sort of remember running up to the top seat in this place — sitting up here and looking down — not knowing that three years from now I’d be playing here.”
Dressing for his first Oilers game in 1977, Semenko went on to play 10 seasons with Edmonton in the WHA and NHL.
It’s one of many memories Semenko cherishes, and as Oil Country prepares to say their final farewell to Rexall Place on April 6, he is trying to pinpoint what the night will have in store.
“It’s probably going to be an emotional time,” the legendary enforcer said. “I’ve spent a lot of time in this building over the years, after I’ve played, working with the team, being up in this press box, so it’s hard to say. To realize it’s coming to an end here… it’s going to be strange, definitely.”
BLOGS & FEATURES
- BLOG: Power-play precision
- BLOG: RNH finds his stride
- BLOG: Thursday updates
- FEATURE: Tailored fit
- FIVE THINGS: McDavid & PP lead Oil
- THE PANEL | Presented by Sport Chek
- PRACTICE | Thursday at Rexall Place
- PRACTICE RAW | Griffin Reinhart
- PRACTICE RAW | Ryan Nugent-Hopkins
- PRACTICE RAW | Jordan Oesterle
- PRACTICE RAW | Todd McLellan
- FAREWELL REXALL PLACE | Stefan's empty net
Following their 6-4 win over the St. Louis Blues on Wednesday night, the Oilers went right back to business, working some more on their power play Thursday at practice.
The Blues, who were the number two penalty killing team in the NHL heading into Wednesday, saw their PK squashed by the Oilers, whose power-play performance spiked, scoring on four of their six full-man advantage opportunities.
“There was no magic wand, we didn’t come in and reinvent the wheel, we practiced and adjusted maybe two little things,” said Oilers Head Coach Todd McLellan.
Having received much criticism in the past this season for their failure to produce a high percentage of goals on the power play, the Oilers capitalized on the window of opportunity that lay before them against the Blues.
“We outworked the penalty kill,” said McLellan. “It doesn’t happen very often, usually the power play gets a little bit lazy at times…but I thought last night we did a good job of getting to secondary pucks in and around the net. Now, that can only happen when you take the first shot, but with all the question marks around the power play, you begin to look at a lot of the stats. We’re at the middle of the pack as far as shots-on-goal per power play in the league.”
Oilers forward Ryan Nugent-Hopkins scored two on separate power plays, one in the first period and another in the second, while Mark Letestu and Leon Draisaitl each tucked one away in the middle frame.
It’s a work in progress that McLellan said the team doesn’t take lightly and will continue to work on, enhance and tweak where necessary.
“When you’re not scoring you have fans, media, players, coaches — they’re all yelling at the guy with the puck to shoot. It doesn’t make any sense if you don’t have a shooting lane too so we have to understand, they want to shoot, they want to score, but they take what’s given and maybe we can do a little better job of that as well.”
The Oilers are still riding the celebration high after their 6-4 victory over the St. Louis Blues Wednesday night.
Unable to produce a win against the Blues at Rexall Place since October 30, 2011, Edmonton finally snapped the six-game losing streak at home against them, closing out the season series with a 1-2-0 record.
Oilers forward Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, who played his third game since being activated from the Injured Reserve list on March 11, produced two of the six goals.
“I think as the games go on here I’m starting to get my timing back a little bit,” said the centre. “The legs have felt pretty good throughout the three games, but timing definitely takes a little bit to get back and your hands come with that, so yesterday for the first full game I felt confident in myself.”
On January 18, the forward blocked a shot with his glove, injuring his hand during the second period of the Oilers 4-2 victory over the Florida Panthers.
Prior to sustaining his injury, the 22-year-old had appeared in 46 games with the Oilers this season, registering 30 points (8G, 22A) and 14 penalty minutes.
The Blues, trying to recover from their 7-4 loss to the Calgary Flames on Monday night, were looking to regain their footing and secure a win until the Oilers stopped them in their tracks. Like Nugent-Hopkins’ feelings about his game, the team is feeling good about the win.
“It’s definitely a good confidence boost,” said Nugent-Hopkins. “That’s a team that we’ve struggled against in the past and this year. They’re probably the best that we’ve seen them too…to get a win against a team like that is definitely nice and gives us some confidence going into these last nine [games].”
The Oilers have hit the ice for practice at Rexall Place. Patrick Maroon temporarily left the ice after being hit in the left leg by friendly fire. He has since returned.
BLOGS & FEATURES
- FEATURE: The Final 10
- BLOG: Nurse's anticipated return
- BLOG: Pardy keeps up conditioning
- BLOG: Tuesday updates
- TOP 5 TUESDAY: Oilers vs. Blues
- PRACTICE | Tuesday at Rexall Place
- PRACTICE RAW | Adam Pardy
- PRACTICE RAW | Darnell Nurse
- PRACTICE RAW | Mark Letestu
- PRACTICE RAW | Todd McLellan
Oilers defenceman Darnell Nurse is expected to make his return to the lineup tomorrow against the St. Louis Blues.
Nurse was suspended three games for an altercation with Sharks defenceman Roman Polak during a home game against San Jose on March 8.
“You never want to be in [this] position but at the same time you have to use your time wisely and learn from it,” said Nurse. “Learn from why you have to miss those games but at the same time, when you’re out you have to use it to your advantage and work hard.”
The incident occurred with less than two minutes to go in the third period. Nurse was assessed a minor penalty for roughing and major penalty for fighting.
Though he’s making the best out of a challenging situation, the blueliner said he still believes in ensuring the team has a strong presence on the ice. With new players that were added to the team at the NHL Trade Deadline, the Oilers have found a grittier style of play.
But in doing so, Nurse said he also recognizes that there is a limit to the level of aggression a player should exhibit.
“There’s been some changes to the roster,” he said. “Bigger, stronger guys so obviously we want to be a team that doesn’t get pushed around and play on the ice, but we can’t cross that line.”
Oilers defenceman Adam Pardy joined his teammates for Tuesday's practice at Rexall Place as he continues to recovery from an injury.
The 6-foot-4, 227-pound blueliner injured his hand blocking a shot in a game against the San Jose Sharks on March 8.
“It’s tough because you don’t get a lot of practice time with the team and I’ve had the last four days off the ice without anything,” said Pardy, who was claimed via waivers from the Winnipeg Jets on Feb. 29.
“With a new team, you especially need that practice time getting used to guys and getting and feeling comfortable on the ice with the players you’re with, but that’s just the situation. You’ve got to make the most of what’s going on here and we’re doing everything we can to get back as soon as possible.”
Oilers Head Coach Todd McLellan said Pardy is eager to maintain his level of fitness while cautiously monitoring the healing of his injury.
“Adam wants to play badly,” he said. “He’s able to skate so he wants to keep his legs going and his conditioning up as much as he can. The minute he’s good to play we’re going to put him in because we ‘d like to find out a little bit more about him. But he can’t run the risk of greater injury to himself and hurting the team and I think he understands both of those situations but he’s very noble, he wants to maintain that conditioning level and we’d welcome him back quickly.”
Pardy recognizes the importance of ensuring his body is healthy and can withstand the return to game action, once he’s ready.
“I’m hopeful I’ll play every game but you know you have to take care of your body,” he said. “I’m hoping to get back as soon as possible.”