EDMONTON, Alberta — Jordan Eberle knows what the future can be like for the Islanders if they eventually move into their proposed new arena at Belmont Park, even if there’s a good chance the impending unrestricted free agent won’t be with the team for that projected opening in 2021. The right wing was part of the Oilers’ transition from outdated Rexall Place to the state-of-the-art Rogers Place in 2016.
“More than anything, with these guys, it will stabilize where they’re going to be,” Eberle said. “I’ve only been here for two years but, on Long Island, people want the team to come back to Long Island, where the fan base is and they’re going to get it. For the fans, more than anything, it’s a chance to call it their own.”
The Islanders will play the middle game of their three-game Western Canada swing against the Oilers on Thursday night, their third visit to Rogers Place since the arena’s opening.
The developers of the Belmont Park arena project have visited Rogers Place, just as they’ve studied all the arenas in the NHL. The Islanders are currently splitting home games between NYCB Live’s Nassau Coliseum, outdated as an NHL arena despite being refurbished, and the modern but not-suited-for-hockey Barclays Center.
“There was so much hype around the new building,” Eberle said of Rogers Place. “They talked about it forever. The building that they built, it was first class. I don’t know if there’s really a better arena in the NHL. It was great for the city. As a player, you took a little bit of time to adjust but you kind of made it your home, like any rink.”
Rogers Place is part of an ambitious plan to develop downtown Edmonton, just as the Belmont Park developers are looking to build more than just an arena in Elmont.
Islanders defenseman Johnny Boychuk grew up in Edmonton, occasionally going to Oilers’ games at Rexall. He said it’s tough to replicate the atmosphere of the older buildings in the modern arenas.
“You’ve got to get the fans to be the same or be louder,” Boychuk said of the Oilers’ move to Rogers Place. “Sometimes moving into a newer arena, the acoustics aren’t the same as what they used to be. You can see it going from Barclays to Nassau. There’s less people at Nassau but the acoustics make you feel like it’s a lot louder.
“Eventually, every arena will get to be that way,” added Boychuk, as the Coliseum and the Scotiabank Saddledome in Calgary are the only remaining barns left in the NHL with the Oilers moving to Rogers Place and the Red Wings moving into Little Caesars Arena in 2017. “It’s also nice for the fans to have a little bit of nicer accommodations.”
Oilers defenseman Matt Benning, who also grew up in Edmonton, said the Oilers’ move brought the team closer together.
“This [dressing] room is top notch and, as a player, you just get excited to come to the rink,” said Benning, whose father, Brian, played for the Oilers and whose uncle, Jim, is the Canucks general manager. “There’s a kitchen. Everything is here. Guys hang out at the rink longer. They have lunch together. You get to know your teammates better.”
Still, Benning agreed with Boychuk that, sometimes, the atmosphere suffers in the bigger, more modern buildings.
“It’s, for sure, a different feeling,” Benning said. “The atmosphere in these new arenas can take a hit sometimes because [the stands] are so deep and the fans are so far away. It’s good and bad. There’s definitely a cool dynamic about those old rinks.”