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Last hockey game marks end of an era at Northlands Coliseum

A new generation of hockey stars raced across the ice at Northlands Coliseum on Friday for the arena's last puck drop.

'I just really want to pass it on to these guys,' former Oiler Ryan Smyth says

The Spruce Grove Saints took on the Okotoks Oilers in the last hockey game at the Northlands Coliseum Friday night. (Anna Desmarais/CBC)

A new generation of hockey stars raced across the ice at Northlands Coliseum on Friday for the arena's last puck drop.

As the Spruce Grove Saints and the Okotoks Oilers chased the puck, fans leapt and cheered for their favourite team. Some even came in their Edmonton Oilers jerseys to honour the history of the building.

Northlands Coliseum was built in 1974 as the home rink for the Edmonton Oilers. The team won five Stanley Cups in a decade on the same ice where the Alberta Junior Hockey League teams duked it out Friday night.

The Coliseum could be demolished when the land is reverted back to the city on January 1.

Former Oiler Ryan Smyth came up with the idea of having one last game for the fans. He wanted to recreate the excitement of the arena for a few of the province's most promising players.

"I just really want to pass it on to these guys," he said. "They've had this great opportunity to excel and have some excitement of their own and build their own memories. "

Fans filled the Coliseum at the last charity game. (Anna Desmarais/CBC)

Smyth still remembers the atmosphere in the Coliseum during the Oilers' Stanley Cup run in 2006. The team was down in the series 3-0 against the Carolina Hurricanes, but when they got on the ice for what could have been the last game of their season, he said it felt like the entire city was behind him.

"The building itself was electrifying," he said. "The energy and the excitement from the fans gave us that extra boost in the Stanley Cup playoffs. It was phenomenal."

Brayden Stephen would make the drive from Okotoks to Edmonton with his family four times a year to cheer on the Oilers during moments like that.

Now, the 17-year-old goalie for the Okotoks Oilers said the Coliseum brings him so many good memories of his childhood.

"It'll be sad to see it go," Stephen said.

Braedan Stephen used to come four times a year from Okotoks to Edmonton to cheer on the Oilers at the Coliseum. (Anna Desmarais/CBC)

The Coliseum was not just a hockey rink — it was a concert and entertainment venue that hosted the biggest names in Edmonton for four decades.

Mayor Don Iveson told reporters last week that the Coliseum could be saved if there was any interest from a private investor to revitalize the building. Otherwise, keeping the Coliseum open is not "the economically viable option," Iveson said.

Friday's hockey game was one way for Edmontonians to celebrate the legacy of the Coliseum. The arena is hosting a jam-packed weekend of activities, including a public skate Saturday and a multicultural round dance Sunday.

Coliseum usher Ron Strauss has seen his fair share of outstanding events —  including bands like Coldplay, The Eagles and Paul McCartney — at the Coliseum during his last nine years of volunteering at the venue.

The junior league hockey game was one of his last shifts as a Coliseum employee.

"It's fairly sad," he said. "It's sort of like different seasons and this is the winter season, I guess."

anna.desmarais@cbc.ca

@anna_desmarais