Wayne Gretzky (Focus On Sport/Getty Images)
Rexall Place will host its final Oilers game Wednesday night. We say goodbye to the Oilers’ home building with five great memories, including Stanley Cup victories, magical runs and some spectacular moments.
If the Oilers’ rebuild had gone the way those in the Edmonton had hoped back when the team drafted Taylor Hall first overall in 2010, there’s a chance the Oilers would be able to send the Rexall Place out in post-season style.
However, six seasons and zero Stanley Cup playoff appearances later, the Oilers aren’t post-season bound and Rexall Place will host its final game Wednesday night in the midst of yet another season where Edmonton can land the first overall pick.
On-ice results aside, though, Rexall Place — formerly known as Northlands Coliseum, Edmonton Coliseum and Skyreach Center — has seen a lot of winning teams over the past four decades, played host to the game’s greatest offensive player and left a large number of Edmontonians with hockey memories that will last a lifetime. Here are five of the best:
5. Stefan misses the empty-netter — Jan. 4, 2007
Patrik Stefan’s missed empty-net goal is more infamous than famous, its status as one of the most well-recognized gaffes in NHL history makes it without a doubt one of the more memorable moments in Rexall Place’s history.
With less than 20 seconds left in a 5-4 game, Stefan, a first overall pick that went bust, managed to scoop up a loose puck in the Oilers’ zone following a fanned pass attempt by Edmonton defenseman Marc-Andre Bergeron. At that moment, there had to be at least 100 fans throughout the building grabbing for their coats and starting for the exit. What happened next, though, had fans right back in their seats:
The entire play would have been forgettable — or at least nowhere near as memorable — were it not for Ales Hemsky’s game-tying goal with 2.1 seconds remaining when the Oilers broke the other way.
Unfortunately for Stefan, his error has become the lasting memory of his NHL career, which is a shame for the center. He scored 64 goals and 188 points over his 455-game career, but most will remember him for the goal that got away.
4. Gagner enters the history books alongside Gretzky, Coffey — Feb. 2, 2012
The first seven seasons of Sam Gagner’s career were spent with the Edmonton Oilers and before Hall, Jordan Eberle, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Nail Yakupov and Connor McDavid, Gagner was one of the faces of the Oilers core. No season of Gagner’s career was quite as successful as his rookie campaign, but no single game was more memorable than a February 2012 game against the Chicago Blackhawks.
During the 2011-12 season, Gagner had the second-highest scoring season of his career with 18 goals and 29 points, but he has one big night to thank. Against the Blackhawks during that early February game, Gagner joined Wayne Gretzky and Paul Coffey in the Oilers’ record books by posting an eight-point night:
Gagner’s eight points were 17 percent of his final point total, and they came all within one 60-minute game. Before Gagner went off for eight points, no player had managed the feat since April 1989. That’s more than 23 years between Gagner’s eight-point night and the last player to do it, Mario Lemieux. It takes a few lucky bounces and being in the right place at the right time to put up that many points in the modern era, and Gagner found those spots and got those bounces to land his place in the history books.
3. The 2006 Stanley Cup run
There are numerous moments from the Stanley Cup run that stand out, but it’s impossible to pick one single moment that matters more than the rest. The Oilers were an eighth seed that captured the hearts of Canada en route to one of the most magical playoff runs in recent memory.
The opening-round series against the Detroit Red Wings was one in which the Oilers were believed to have little to no chance. The star-studded Red Wings were stunned by the Oilers, though, in a six-game series that culminated with Edmonton advancing thanks to a goal by Ales Hemsky with 1:06 remaining in the third period. Edmonton would go on to face the fifth-seeded San Jose Sharks, and again the Oilers would advance in six games on the back of a Game 6 shutout by Dwayne Roloson, who was the backbone of Edmonton’s run. The Western Conference final wouldn’t have quite as much drama, as they downed the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim in five games en route to the Stanley Cup final.
The Oilers would come up short in the final for a number of reasons, but Edmonton fans will forever wonder what would have happened had Roloson stayed healthy. In Game 1 of the Stanley Cup final against Carolina, Roloson suffered a knee injury that sidelined him for the entire series and Carolina would go on to win the series in seven games.
2. Gretzky scores 50 in 39 — Dec. 30, 1981
In his first two seasons in the NHL, Wayne Gretzky had already shown the scoring ability that would make him the greatest offensive player to ever lace up a pair of skates and his goal scoring touch was evident. In his first two years, he scored a combined 106 goals in 159 games. But no one would have guessed that Gretzky could do what he did in 1981-82, when he took the 50 goals in 50 games record and destroyed it.
Before that season, only Mike Bossy and Maurice Richard had scored 50 goals in 50 games, but Gretzky was on a torrid pace to start the campaign. As he inched closer to the 50-goal mark around the 35-game point in the Oilers’ season, it was obvious Gretzky was going to have a shot at scoring 50-in-50. Few would have believed he would do it before he even hit game No. 40, though:
Gretzky had some incredible seasons with the Oilers, but one could argue that no season was as great as his 1981-82 season. Gretzky scored 92 goals and 212 points that season. Only once would he score more points than that in a season, when he notched 52 goals and 215 points during the 1985-86 campaign.
1. The beginning of a dynasty — May 19, 1984
Any of the Oilers’ five Stanley Cups very well could have taken the top spot, but let’s go with the first one because it was the start of the Oilers’ era. The roster was absolutely stacked with Gretzky leading the charge in front of a team that included Mark Messier, Glenn Anderson, Jari Kurri, Kevin Lowe, Paul Coffey, Grant Fuhr and Andy Moog. Messier was named the Conn Smythe Trophy winner with eight goals, two of which were game-winners, and 26 points in 18 playoff games.
The series against the New York Islanders lasted five games and saw the Oilers take the Cup on home ice only because the NHL had shifted the playoff series format. Instead of the traditional format (2-2-1-1-1), series were played 2-3-2 to match the NBA and MLB. If the series had been played in the traditional format, the first Cup victory could have come in New York.
In almost any era, that Oilers team could have emerged with the Stanley Cup, and the Oilers’ win — on home ice, no less — signalled a changing of the guard. Edmonton’s victory unseated the New York Islanders, who were riding a streak of four consecutive Stanley Cups, and saw the Oilers avenge the previous year’s defeat at the hands of the Islanders.
Over the next six seasons, the Oilers would win four more Stanley Cups, with the final Cup victory coming in 1990. It was the Oilers’ only Stanley Cup victory without Gretzky in the lineup.