Sunday 18/02/2018 - 07:17 am


Terry Jones: Pride in bringing Edmonton Oilers to the brand-new Rogers Places has Bob Nicholson beaming


2016.08.31 06:43

As far as Bob Nicholson is concerned, the No. 1 coming attraction in hockey is happening here.

So this is where he plans to be.

As the vice-president of the International Ice Hockey Federation and second-in-command to Rene Fasel, Nicholson should perhaps be in Toronto for the revival of the World Cup of Hockey.

As the chief executive officer and vice-chairman of the Oilers Entertainment Group, he possibly should be there in support of Team North America general manager Peter Chiarelli, head coach Todd McLellan and star players Connor McDavid and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, not to mention Andrej Sekera and Leon Draisaitl with Team Europe.

And as head honcho of OEG, it is also important that Nicholson be involved with the organizers because it’s his intention — if this World Cup is successful with eight teams playing a total of 17 games in the same venue in the same city — to bring the event to Edmonton in four years.

But during this year’s event from Sept. 17 to Oct. 1, hockey moves into brand-new Rogers Place in Edmonton with the opening of the most important Oilers training camp in years, the first game Sept. 24 featuring the Edmonton Oil Kings, and the series of Oilers pre-season games beginning with the split squad game Sept. 26 against Calgary.

So, sorry, he’s going to be here.

“For sure, I’m going to be around here. I have some IIHF meetings for a few days before it begins, but the majority of the time, I’m going to be here,” said Nicholson.

“It’s once-in-a-lifetime to be involved in this, and there are a lot of moving pieces.

“It’s just to see everything continue to come together. I had the opportunity to do a lot of different projects with Hockey Canada, but this is totally different. It’s just so much bigger, and everything comes at you so much stronger.

“It’s going to be about operations. And you know what? There are going to be some flaws as we start. But I want to see how we deal with those so people aren’t even aware of them as we go forward. Our job is to make sure the fans have an unbelievable guest experience, and I’m really confident that’s going to happen.

“There are a lot of various partnerships. Some days, those partnerships are trying because everybody is trying to get to the same end goal.

“From my seat, what I’ve liked the best is how our staff have been flexible. Although there’s so much pressure in so many different areas, they’ve really continued to be upbeat.

“I think that’s a real key going forward. We had over 100 staff with the Oilers and now, with contracted people, part time people and full time people, we’re getting up to 1,500-1,600 people. It’s a big engine, but it’s one that everybody is really, really motivated.”

While the focus is on the Sept. 10 open house, the first big event for those involved is a gathering of the entire staff Saturday at Rogers Place.

“The number will be about 1,600 people,” said Nicholson.

“This is really the first time we get to touch them. With the whole group coming together, our hope is to really make it motivational. There’s going to be a pretty neat energy in the room.”

The employees will sit in lower bowl seats and the new $110-million video scoreboard will be lowered to be a big part of the proceedings.

“I was just in there (Tuesday) and looked at the scoreboard. The scoreboard is unbelievable. I was sitting on the player’s bench, and wow. I think for a while, fans are going to catch themselves watching that instead of the live action.”

While he’ll be at IIHF meetings and will miss the free open house that he championed to officially open the building, Nicholson will be back for the Keith Urban and Dolly Parton leadoff concerts. But he’s first and foremost a hockey guy. And that’s where he admits his excitement level is highest.

He’s looking forward to showing both the Oil Kings and the Oilers around the new building starting with their new dressing rooms.

“The dressing rooms are special. When you talk Oil Kings, it’ll be the best dressing room in the CHL. For the Oilers, it’ll be the best dressing room in the NHL. We want the players to be confortable and spend more time there. It’s a great place for them to build as a team. And we hope when players from other teams come into the building, they say ‘Wow, I wish that we were treated that way in our city. Hopefully, it’ll help us recruit players in the future.”

But mostly, it’s the games.

“Let’s start with the Oil Kings. Wow, is this going to be special for them. It’s going to be a sold-out building to play the very first game at Rogers Place. That’s going to be spectacular. Then we get into the Oilers exhibition games. And everybody in the world is going to be watching on Oct. 12 for the first regular season game, an Oilers-Flames Battle of Alberta game. That when every bell and whistle we have we’re going to show off to the world,” said Nicholson.

The Oilers have had a great deal of secrecy involving what would be involved in the ceremonies around that occasion.

Nicholson isn’t telling. But he did reveal to your correspondent a lot of the things the Oilers won’t be doing and revealed the philosophy that is going to be involved.

When the Montreal Canadiens moved out of the Forum and into the Bell Centre and when the Toronto Maple Leafs departed Maple Leaf Gardens to the Air Canada Centre, there were parades of banners and greats from one place to the other.

That’s not going to happen here.

And the Oilers aren’t going to invite back all the Oilers of the past that were part of the farewell to Rexall Place, either.

“We’re going to keep it more simple than that,” said Nicholson.

“For that first game, there’s going to be a lot of entertainment prior to the game. We’re looking at doing something with Wayne Gretzky here. He’s getting all dusted off and polished,” he said of the statue relocated from Rexall Place.

“We have some plans for some specific events within the event. But mostly it’s going to be about showing off our building.”

As for Oiler legends, he said some will be there, but there’s a conscious effort “to make this about the future.

“We’re going to show the technology of how you are going to be entertained, pre-game, during the game and post-game. It’s all going to be totally new to the Oilers’ great fan base. …

“The biggest thing we’re going to show is how proud we are to be in Rogers Place. We’re going to show that this is just the start of something more with the Ice District and everything else that’s coming.”

And that brings us back to the World Cup of Hockey. While he won’t be there, Nicholson will be paying close attention.

There’s no question Edmonton would be the logical place for a next edition of the World Cup of Hockey in 2020 with the completion of the Ice District, the certain recognition of Rogers Place as the finest facility in hockey by then, and the likelihood of McDavid being established as the second coming of Gretzky.

“It’s certainly something that’s on our radar,” Nicholson said of the World Cup. “I was certainly very involved in 2004, with the last one, and I think it might be a good opportunity for Edmonton. The whole Ice District will be up and running.”

Nicholson is also looking at another Edmonton-Calgary partnership with the World Junior Hockey Championship, with the medal round games in Edmonton this time around.

"They’re going to be looking at 2019 and 2021 for Canada with their bids, and we’d love to get one of those two, for sure. When I was president of Hockey Canada, the best World Juniors for attendance was Edmonton-Calgary. That was a great model. We’ve had those discussions with them.”

HUGE DEMAND LEADS TO MORE TICKETS FOR ROGERS PLACE OPEN HOUSE

The stampede for tickets for the Rogers Place Open House was so overwhelming in the first 24 hours, officials have created opportunity for fans to visit.

The short news release came out of City Hall late Tuesday afternoon:

“We are excited to say that interest in the Rogers Place Open House on Sept. 10 has been overwhelming! As of now we have had more than 42,000 tickets claimed and as a result we are opening up an additional time slot of 3 pm to accommodate ongoing interest.”

The original plan was to accommodate 50,000 people from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. to open the new building.

The announcement and launch of ticket availability began at 2 p.m. Monday. Tickets moved at a rate of about 1,000 per minute for the first 15 minutes. By 9 p.m., they’d reached 29,701 and hit 36,626 by 9 a.m. By noon, they were up to 39,842.

That’s when it was obvious the demand was going to be far greater than the supply.

“It is something that the city is so excited about. They’ve seen some pictures but they want to get in and see it,” said Bob Nicholson, Oilers Entertainment Group chief executive officer and vice-chairman.

There is no charge for the tickets.

People may order up to four tickets each through Ticketmaster.

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