EDMONTON — It was fitting that snow swirled around Rexall Place on Friday night.
After all, during the icy winters of the 1980s, the arena that opened in 1974 was a source of warmth and exuberance for this frosty city as the Edmonton Oilers won five Stanley Cups in seven years.
On Friday, the civic pride generated from a sports dynasty again energized the building, in its farewell season. Fans, employees, former players and a cast of NHL luminaries joined to celebrate the coach and executive behind those memorable days and nights.
Before the current Oilers hosted the Rangers, a blue banner with Glen Sather’s name and five Cups was lifted to the rafters, joining eight others in the old barn that began as the Northland Coliseum, still the only rink in the league where home players walk a carpet from the locker room, through a bar, to get to the bench.
After an applause-filled entrance, the Rangers’ president grabbed a cigar in the press box and slowly walked down through the stands, shaking hands. He went to center ice, where his family and friends waited. Sather thanked them and everyone associated with the Oilers as well as some former competitors.
Sather, who noted that he had been traded six times and joked that he worried that Mark Messier would start sobbing, closed his remarks by saying that he hoped “everyone at some point in life can “feel like I do right now: I feel like the luckiest person on Earth.”
Sather, 72, had appeared a little tired Friday after a series of events Thursday, including a banquet attended by 1,100 people. But before heading on a tour of the city’s new downtown arena Friday afternoon, he stopped near the Rexall exit to pose for photos with a couple and their children and was in top form for the ceremony.
“Glen made everybody feel accountable,” Messier said. “He knew the psychology of a team and the importance of everybody understanding their role and allowing them to be successful. Glen bridged the gap between players and management better than anybody ever did. In the late ’70s and early ’80s, nobody was doing it at all, and that galvanized the team. At the same time, there was a definite separation when he needed to make tough decisions. That’s not an easy line to walk.”
Rangers coach Alain Vigneault, who was coaching his 1,000th game, downplayed his milestone. “I’m going to enjoy tonight, but more as this is Glen’s night,” he said. “He had a tremendous career in Edmonton, and it just so happens that my 1,000th game is tonight. The focus should be on Glen . . . I want to soak this in.”
Messier said players also should learn from the event. “This is an opportunity for the young guys in the league to get a sense of history here in Edmonton, and of course, the opposing team,” said the former Rangers captain, who won a Cup with the Rangers in 1994. “Glen has touched everyone in the organizations, every one of the people here tonight, not only on the ice, but in the crowd as well.”