EDMONTON, Alberta -- The Buffalo Sabres were the visitors for the second NHL game in Rogers Place on Sunday, and the nearly $500 million arena served as an eye-opening backdrop for the team's second game of the season.
The 18,500-seat building is the centerpeice of a downtown revitalization project known as the Ice District. Already open and connected to the arena are the Rogers Community Rink, which both the Sabres and Edmonton Oilers used for practice on Saturday, and the 60,000 square-foot Gran Villa Casino. That $32 million project opened last month to join the arena as part of the first phase of the downtown development.
"I know my family and friends and pretty much everyone I know are very excited about it," said Sabres forward Tyler Ennis, an Edmonton native who missed last year's trip here while he was sideline by a concussion. "It looks like the facility is amazing and it's really great for the city."
Rexall Place, the Oilers' home since they joined the NHL in 1979, was several miles from downtown in an industrial part of the city with virtually no development around it. Those days here are gone.
The Ice District is a $2.5 billion project over 25 acres. By 2020, there will be a public plaza, two new office towers, condos and a JW Marriott hotel. And, of course, an outdoor ice rink for public skating. One of the towers, slated to be 63 stories, will be the tallest building in Canada west of Toronto.
As for Rogers Place, it is one of the most opulent and technologically-savvy buildings in the NHL. It has a 34,000 square foot public entryway known as Ford Hall that will connect the arena entrance to the rest of the district. There are nearly 1,300 HD TV screens and one of the league's biggest center-hung scoreboards.
Premium areas include theatre boxes featuring armchairs and cushioned bar stools. There is also tableside loge seating overlooking the main level and a private club under the stands near the Edmonton bench that allows those ticket-holders to watch the Oilers enter and exit the ice and walk the runway to their dressing room.
The NHL is in the midst of a three-year run of new arenas. The New York Islanders moved into Barclays Center in Brooklyn last season while the Detroit Red Wings will move into their new downtown facility, to be named Little Caesars Arena, for the 2017-18 campaign. This is the final year for the Wings in Joe Louis Arena, which dates to 1979.
Rex Ryan is a devout hockey fan who often talks Sabres during his meetings with the media, so Sabres coach Dan Bylsma turned the tables Sunday at the start of his pregame briefing to congratulate Ryan & Co. on the 45-16 thumping of the San Francisco 49ers that was their fourth straight win. Before talking about his own team, Bylsma said he was first giving props to the Bills.
"I didn't get to watch much of it but I saw Shady had a great first half," a smiling Bylsma said of running back LeSean McCoy.
Edmonton television was of no help to find the Bills game Sunday. Unless you went to a sports bar, your options on the tube here were New England-Cincinnati and the Los Angeles Rams at Detroit.
The Oilers have a big week ahead with home games Tuesday against Carolina and Thursday against St. Louis before a trip to Winnipeg to play the Jets in the Heritage Classic game outdoors next Sunday in Investors Group Field.
The home of the CFL's Winnipeg Blue Bombers will also host an alumni game between the teams on Saturday that is perhaps more highly touted than the NHL game itself. That's because Hall of Famers like Wayne Gretzky, Paul Coffey and former Sabre Dale Hawerchuk are all slated to play.
The Rochester Amerks have signed forward Justin Vaive to a 25-game professional tryout. Born in Buffalo in 1989, Vaive is the son of former Sabres winger and longtime Toronto star Rick Vaive. The 6-foot-6, 240-pounder played one game for Cincinnati of the ECHL this season and made his Amerks debut in Saturdays' 4-1 loss in Syracuse.
Vaive spent last year with Bridgeport of the AHL, scoring 11 goals and adding six assists in 63 games for the New York Islanders affiliate. He has played 208 career AHL games for Bridgeport, Hartford and San Antonio.
Vaive was a fourth-round pick of the Anaheim Ducks in 2007 out of Miami (Ohio), where he played four years. Rick Vaive scored 441 goals in an NHL career that started in 1979 and closed with the Sabres during the 1991-92 season. He had three straight 50-goal seasons for the Leafs in the early 80s and had back-to-back 20-goal campaigns for Buffalo in 1988-89 and 1989-90. The elder Vaive played 12 games for the Amerks in 1991-92.