The Skyreach Centre is not one of the new, showy arenas that the NHL has to offer, and fits
more into the mold of NHL venues such as Reunion Arena in Dallas and Nassau Coliseum in
Long Island. This venue is located 3 miles outside of downtown, and is a part of a large
complex called Northlands Park which includes a racetrack, gambling casino and
agricultural exhibition buildings. Surrounded by highways and parking, there is little
neighborhood ambience surrounding the arena. Just outside is a light rail transit station
which conveniently drops fans off just steps from the front door.
The building is served by a single main concourse which is somewhat narrow and clogs
fairly easily. Off the main entrance are two team stores, both offering roughly the same
merchandise, and there are additional point of sale kiosks as well as many concession
stands throughout the concourses.
At ground level is a concourse called the "Air Canada Club" and is accessible only to ticket
holders in the club section, which is designated by the lower level seats from goal line to
goal line. The Air Canada Club is carpeted throughout and features concession stands,
bars, coat check and lounge areas. The concourse extends about 270 degrees around the
perimeter of the building, and ends in an area just adjacent to the Oilers locker room. Fans
sitting in that bar area can watch the Oilers players literally walk right past them as they
proceed from their dressing area to the playing surface.
The arena bowl is laid out in two levels, and the intimacy of this building is such that no
matter where you sit you are right on top of the action. In the center is an eight sided
scoreboard, with four panels being video boards which are grainy and much in need of
replacement or updating. Apparently the Oilers have this high on their list of priorities.
Along the balcony edge are stationary ad panels interspersed with dot matrix message
boards showing stats and out of town scores, and in two corners are the new LED digital
effects boards, but not 360 degree surround!
We were told by Oilers officials to make sure and be in our seats early, and we found out
why. The team does an outstanding opening extravaganza, including an amazing light show,
pyrotechnics exploding in mid air, laser lights, all culminating in a 30 foot oil derrick which
is dropped from the ceiling to the ice, which spews out sparks and fire as the Oilers players
skate out beneath it. The musical selection, video clips from cartoons and TV shows, and
scoreboard contests were all excellently done. The team spends considerable time and
energy in making a show the fans will enjoy and respond to.
Out of town scores
In addition to NHL scores, the Oilers display the AHL score of their affiliate the Hamilton
Bulldogs. AND, they scroll NBA out of town scores. Let this one sink in ---- NBA scores, -----
We have to mention the pierogies, which we have not seen in any other sports venues.
With potato/cheese filling and smothered in fried onions, this was a unique treat. Edmonton
boasts the largest population of Ukrainian descent anywhere in Canada, so obviously this
food item has many takers! Also in the arena is the All Star Cafe, a premium restaurant
located in the sky box level that offers a pregame prime rib buffet. This facility is available
to any ticket holders but one must have a reservation.
This great hockey temple was home to the '80s NHL dynasty, and the teams division,
conference, and five Stanley Cup banners hang proudly at one end of the rafters. At the
other end hangs one retired number, that being the Great One, #99, Wayne Gretzky. There
is also a statue of Gretzky outside in the public plaza... and, appropriately, the parkway
adjacent to the Skyreach Centre is called "Wayne Gretzky Way".
Our disappointment with the Edmonton Oilers experience is but one thing, but a huge thing
at that. This team has such a proud and incredible history - all those Stanley Cups, all those
great seasons, those great moments, those great players who are icons of hockey. Yet
there is not a single mention - a name, a picture, a plaque, a memento, or anything else in
the building that heralds all the fantastic moments that happened there. Where are the
names Fuhr, Messier, Coffey, Kurri, Anderson? Where are the murals? Teams with so much
less success do so much more to showcase their history and celebrate their moments
(even in the Ice Palace, hockey's most laughable franchise and going nowhere fast with
Tortorella running the show, one can find a panoramic picture of the Thunderdome with
30,000 fans packed in the place). We road trippers love seeing the exhibits, looking at the
portraits in the concourses. We were expecting to see so much on our visit to this hockey
palace, and we were BITTERLY disappointed to find none of it. In fact, the coolest mural
wasn't even in the building ... it was a full wall ad on a building across the street from the
arena. On the mural were the five Stanley Cup rings, and the slogan read "and now for the
Our advice and our plea to Edmonton is --- "Celebrate and showcase your history!!!" You
have a proud tradition and that message ought to be oozing from every wall and alcove of
Extra points - Marketing
The Oilers have somewhat the same problem we have here in Buffalo - every time the Leafs
come to town those pesky Toronto fans show up in their blue and white jerseys and
permeate the building with their clatter of "Go Leafs Go". The Oilers have a substantial
season ticket base, but rely on group sales, mini packs and some promotions to insure
sellouts. We talked about the way Buffalo handled the Leafs thing this year - and that is to
bundle Leafs single tickets with other games. The Oilers seemed to like that idea and are
heading in that direction as well. But as long as those ducats remain scarce at the Air
Canada Centre, those Leafs fans will find a way into our buildings. You can pretty much
count on that!
We saw the fabulous West Edmonton Mall, toured the city's sports venues, had a great
dinner and took in an awesome game at the Skyreach Centre, and enjoyed the warm
welcome of these terrific Edmonton folk. Now after a long and full day we head back down
highway 2 to Calgary, and for our next leg of the journey we get to see if the Calgary
experience can match this one.
Fan Support 8.5
Concourses/fan comfort 3
Bonus: Oil derrick 2; USRT Red Carpet treatment 4; Gretzky statue 1