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PRINCIPE: That's it, That's Rexall Folks

by Gene Principe / Edmonton Oilers
Photo by Andy Devlin / Edmonton Oilers Hockey Club

The sign I saw Wednesday night: That's it, That's Rexall. It hit me because that is it and that is all when it comes to the building known as Northlands Coliseum, Edmonton Coliseum, Skyreach Centre, Rexall Place and the NHL. From that first WHA game on Nov.10,1974 (a 4-1 win over Cleveland) to the last game on April 6, 2016 and a 6-2 win against Vancouver. Almost 42 years of hockey came to a close. You could feel it everywhere during the day and night there was something special about to happen.

I mean the enormity of the day began with the arrival of the alumni at the rink. Old friends and new friends, teammates and former linemates gathering to talk. Seeing Dave Semenko chatting it up with Georges Laraque or how about Fernando Pisani alongside Petr Klima. Guess they had a playoff goal or two to go over from the 1990 and 2006 playoffs. It was really nice to see it all unfold and to have a front row spot. This has never been and never will be a job and you know that's the case on a day like Thursday.

I must admit for me this has been a special time in saying goodbye to the building. It made me a little sad but more reflective of my career and life. For the last 18 years I have been the host of Oilers hockey. Before that I was just a fan of Oilers Hockey. I remember going to concerts (Billy Joel and Journey), other sporting events (curling, figure skating, indoor soccer, basketball) and even a Monster Truck Jam. Yet it was hockey that I think of most. I grew up literally a five-minute bus ride on the #5 or #18 from then-Northlands Coliseum to our home. With immigrant parents from Italy and a father who was a carpenter and a mom who was a seamstress, our family wasn't necessarily full of money or interest for the ice. However by five I was in love with the Broad Street Bullies from Philadelphia. They quickly became my second-favourite when my allegiance swayed to the team just down the road.

I didn't get to many games but the ones I did attend were memorable. Like the time I snuck in (don't tell security). My buddy and I worked a deal. We bought one ticket and then he let me in one of the side exit doors. We were in and enjoyed the game. The moment I remember most was a playoff game from 1987. I saw the late great play by play man Don Wittman walking down the steps from the catwalk in his powder blue Hockey Night in Canada jacket. I was in awe thinking one day I'd love to wear one of those jackets and work for Hockey Night. I never got the jacket but got the opportunity, thanks to Rogers, to work on HNIC.

Last night more memories added to an already full list. To work the last game was a true honour. Getting introduced by Bill Tuele and walking onto the ice for the post-game ceremony a real thrill. Then sitting and interviewing all those former Oilers was a 'Am I really doing this' moment. From celebrating Stanley Cups on Jasper Avenue as a teenager then decades later being side by side with Gretzky, Messier, Fuhr, Anderson and so on was truly surreal. Thursday night was the best way to say goodbye. The team, alumni, fans and franchise all came up with a big win on the last night. Oh what a night it was as we move from the past to the future in the fall at Rogers Place. Goodbye and thanks for the memories.

- Gene Principe
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