STADIUM DUDE’S NHL ARENA RANK: #1
- Location: Edmonton, Alberta
- Opened 2016
- Capacity 18,347
- Games attended: 1
- Last visited: 2020
Montreal has a better pure hockey atmosphere. Games in Tampa and Nashville are more fun. Winnipeg fans display more passion. Chicago has a bigger scoreboard. The new arenas in Detroit and Vegas have glitzier “Wow” elements. But no building is more impressive than the Oilers’ new downtown palace, Rogers Place. Add the fact that it’s filled by savvy hockey fans, and you have my choice for best arena in the NHL.
The Oilers, for a relatively young franchise, have one of the most storied histories in the game. Its five Stanley Cups are tied for the most of any expansion team. Its fan base loves its hockey and knows its hockey. Despite a very lean decade-and-a-half (the Oilers had but one playoff appearance between the 06-07 and 18-19 seasons, and picked first overall four times in that span), fans still showed up to support their Oilers en masse. They deserve a palace like this.
The arena’s footprint is designed in the shape of an oil drop, which is super cool. A detailed consultation process was conducted with the fans during the design phase to help determine how best to design for the experience fans desire. You want a place with affordable drinks in which to pre-game? The Molson Canadian Hockey House is in a gorgeous futuristic hall attached to the arena that offers $5 domestic beers before puck drop. You want wide concourses with an open feel that are easy to navigate even in the intermission rushes? Done. You want crisply played hockey? The rink maintains the best ice surface in the NHL as voted on by the players. How about a steeply pitched seating bowl with a cantilevered upper deck to bring the “real fans” closer to the action? You got it. Sit down restaurants in the arena? We’ll give you four. The Gretzky statue? We’ll move it here from the old place. A team Hall of Fame? Free high speed Wi-Fi and charging stations? A ginormous scoreboard and TVs everywhere? Yup, yup and yup.
It’s attached to a casino which could make an expensive night out even more expensive (or free of you get really lucky). There are plenty of places to enjoy a drink and bite nearby, with more likely to come as the area north of the arena (hopefully) begins to gentrify. And while the building itself is almost a work of art, there are several public art displays around to add to the visual splendor including an amazing floor mosaic in Ford Hall.
If I have one complaint, it’s that many of the coolest features here are somewhat elitist. Most of the sit down restaurants in the building require a special ticket. Some of the more interesting features in the seating bowl, like the high top chairs and half tables, were often all-inclusive premium tickets that had a ridiculous price tag. And there just seemed to be far too many cool little areas that I wasn’t allowed to go. Perhaps this has made Joe Fan feel less welcome, leading to a less rambunctious game atmosphere. It felt more like the corporate Toronto crowd as opposed to a Calgary Flames crowd. (And apologies to Edmontonians who will hate both parts of that comparison.)
In the end, it really only makes sense that the best ice palace in the NHL requires a trip to North America’s northern-most Big 4 sports town. Bundle up and enjoy.