As an era ends in Edmonton’s hockey history, a new one could soon begin for NAIT Ooks men’s hockey and their impact on the community.
As of Jan. 1, 2018, Northlands Coliseum – opened in 1974 and home to legendary Edmonton Oilers teams – will no longer host sports and entertainment events. Partial or complete demolition will likely follow.
But before that happens, it will see a couple more big games. Among them: the NAIT Ooks vs. the University of Alberta Golden Bears. As the doors close at the storied arena, the matchup opens another. For the first time since 1991, the teams will meet in the “Face-off” series, begun in 1985 for the same reasons it’s being revived on Saturday, Dec. 9.
“We want 2 strong hockey powers to play a competitive game but also give back to the community,” says Ooks head coach Tim Fragle (Management ’04). “That was the motive behind it.”
Great hockey for a great cause
In March, 1985, the Ooks and Bears met before a crowd of 13,354, which “witnessed a fantastic display of amateur hockey,” reported the Nugget student newspaper. The Bears came from behind in the third period to win 5-4.
More important than winning or losing, however, was the community impact: “At 50 cents a ticket, there would have been over $6,700 raised for the Ronald McDonald House.”
This year, the recipient of 20% of the revenue after costs is the Stollery Children’s Hospital Foundation. The remainder will support the schools' hockey programs.
“It means a lot to not only represent NAIT and athletics at the school but to raise money for charity is … a huge honour,” says Ooks captain Corey Chorneyko. “To be able to play hockey for the fundraiser just makes it that much better.”
The game is also an opportunity to spotlight the quality of hockey happening at Edmonton post-secondary institutions, says Fragle (pictured at right), who played for the Ooks from 2001 to 2004. The series pits the team, currently leading the Alberta Colleges Athletic Conference with an 11-1-1 record, against the Bears, now at the top of the U Sports Canada West division at 15-1.
“University and college hockey is very good hockey and I don’t think a lot of people get exposed to it,” says Fragle. “All of our players and the U of A players played junior hockey [and] in the Western Hockey League. This is an opportunity to market our brand of hockey.”
Based on standings, it’s arguably one of the best games in town (and cheaper at $10 a ticket). At the time of writing, the coliseum’s former NHL tenants struggle near the bottom of the league.
Post-game update: Dec. 9, 2017
After a scoreless first period, the U of A Golden Bears broke out to take the lead and ultimately the game, which ended 4 - 0 in their favour.
That brings the Face-off series, begun in 1985, to 6 games for the Bears, 2 for the Ooks.
It also adds funds to a running tally of thousands of dollars raised for Edmonton charities, including the Ronald MacDonald House and, most recently, the Stollery Children's Hospital Foundation.
Legacy of community building
Chorneyko recalls attending the last game the Oilers played at Northlands, then called Rexall Place, on April 6, 2016. “Being a part of that was pretty emotional,” says the 24-year-old defenseman. “This game will be pretty much the same for myself and my team.”
“With the rich history there, it’s going to be an honour to be a part of this.”
Once the puck drops, however, both teams will set those feelings aside. “We’re going to try to play a full 60-minute, hard game,” says Chorneyko. “Just going to take it all in [and] enjoy every minute of it. Can’t wait.”
The old hockey barn may be about to see one of its last “fantastic displays of hockey,” amateur or otherwise, but it does so in keeping with the role it played in Edmonton for more than 4 decades. As the site of Face-off’s relaunch, Northlands Coliseum solidifies its legacy as place that created community around sports and athletics.
“We’re proud to get this event going again,” says Fragle. “We want to keep it going for years to come.”