Members of the core group of the glory years for the Edmonton Oilers got a bit of a head start in saying goodbye to Rexall Place.
Several former Oilers attended the annual Wayne Gretzky Fantasy Camp in Las Vegas in late March, and it was impossible to ignore the going-away party that loomed in the not-too-distant future.
On Wednesday, the Oilers will play their final home game at Rexall Place, saying farewell to the building they called home since the 1974-75 season.
"When you walk into that building, so many flashbacks come into your mind, you know; the route you go to the dressing room, the parking lot and the people you see again and again," said forward Jari Kurri, a member of each of Edmonton's five Stanley Cup-winning teams and an inductee into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2001. "In a way, it's sad that it is happening like that, but that is the way it goes. It has happened before in other cities. I think the stuff from that building will be carried to the new building."
Video: FAREWELL REXALL | Kevin Lowe
The new building is Rogers Place, a $480 million (Canadian) state-of-the-art facility scheduled to open in September. But before that happens, a proper sendoff will take place for the building that produced a treasure trove of memories and incubated the careers of some of the game's most legendary players, including Gretzky, Kurri, Mark Messier and Grant Fuhr. Of the five Stanley Cup championships, four were clinched in Edmonton.
Rexall Place played host to 20 Stanley Cup Final games, and the Oilers won 15. They won 87 of 129 playoff games there.
"Listen, it was one of the great places to ever play," Gretzky said during his camp. "The atmosphere was always wonderful."
For the championship core, it was the place where they developed as hockey players, as men, as legends.
Video: FAREWELL REXALL | Ryan Smyth
"I pretty much, in a sense, grew up in that locker room," defenseman Marty McSorley said. "You entered that room and you weren't sure if you were an NHL player, weren't sure if you were going to make the hockey club.
"I'm not really sure if you are winner before you get there or you learn how to win when you are there, but so much happened for me in that locker room."
So much happened for all of the players who pulled on an Oilers sweater during the glory years. But winning the Stanley Cup is the memory that trumps all others for the vast majority of those players.
"The first Stanley Cup [in 1984]," Gretzky said, without hesitation, when asked for his favorite memory of the building. "Winning that Cup and being in that arena, the atmosphere was overwhelming. I remember that like yesterday."
Video: FAREWELL REXALL PLACE | Bill Ranford
Now, the bittersweet task of letting go of a glorious past and embracing an uncertain future begins. The going-away process will conclude during a gala ceremony Wednesday before the Oilers, eliminated from contention for the 2016 Stanley Cup Playoffs, play the Vancouver Canucks in their penultimate game of the season.
"The fans were great there," Fuhr said of the building called Northlands Coliseum for much of his tenure in Edmonton. "Some of the new buildings are so big that the fans aren't really on top of you. You miss that closeness."
The reasons for reflection will be different for each alumnus who shows up Wednesday, but McSorley delivered a near-perfect synopsis of what awaits those taking part in the festivities across the next three days in the City of Champions.
"I think for me, going back will be nostalgic and you will have some real regrets that it is not going to be a NHL building anymore, because you worry about whether you will still have that tie to so many of the great moments there," he said. "It will be great, though, because I will get to share those moments again with so many great guys."