SUN Hockey Pool

Oilers like idea of new digs

ROBERT TYCHKOWSKI, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:08 AM ET

If a new downtown arena in Edmonton ever does come to fruition, it'll open long after most of the Oilers veterans are gone.

In a league where things change fast, 2014 might as well be a million miles away.

But even if they might not be here to enjoy it at ice level, some of the players were Edmontonians long before they were Oilers and would still love to see it built.

"I'm an Edmontonian and I think it's a great thing for the city," said Jason Strudwick, a day after Oilers owner Daryl Katz announced plans for a new downtown arena. "It will continue the revitalization of downtown that we have to keep pushing. We want to have a good, vibrant downtown."

Which isn't exactly the case right now.

"I don't want to say that it's dead," said Fernando Pisani, another Edmonton-born Oiler. "But it's a little quiet right now."

The grandiose arena plan aims to change that, with an 18,500 seat rink, an adjacent practice facility, hotels, a casino, theatres and a convention centre right in the heart of the downtown core.

"I think it's going to be awesome, it'll bring a lot of life to downtown Edmonton," said Pisani. "It'll be something to see. Obviously I probably won't be around to see it (as an Oiler) but it'll be something cool to see.

"People will be excited to come to the rink. Take the buses, hang around the restaurants, have a few drinks and enjoy it."

In the eyes of many, Rexall Place, both inside the building and in the surrounding neighbourhood, is long past its prime, offering fans very little in terms of atmosphere and amenities. Non-traditional markets like Denver and Columbus are way better places to go to a game, if only for the pre- and post-game festivities.

"I've been saying it for a while, Rexall is a great building, great memories, but like most things (it's time to go)," said Strudwick. "Even the Yankees built a new building and the old one had a lot of great memories as well."

A revitalized downtown might also help with recruitment. Visiting players see the barren wasteland that is downtown Edmonton and want nothing to do with it. But they do take mental notes when they walk into a nice new building in a bustling arena district.

Some of them even take it into consideration when deciding where to play.

The Blue Jackets have a brilliant downtown rink with an adjacent practice facility in the middle of an arena district that really comes to life on game night. Players enjoy playing there and on 41 home dates a year, it's not just a game, but a game-night experience.

"Everyone who sees that from other teams loves it," said Strudwick, adding an adjacent practice facility is always popular with players, who hate having to pack up and move across town to a practice rink every time a concert comes to the arena.

"This would be easier. I think it's great, I hope more teams do that, it just makes more sense."

ROBERT.TYCHKOWSKI@SUNMEDIA.CA


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