Rod Phillips tickled to call the finest hockey of the day at Northlands

Rod Phillips, voice of the Oilers for 37 years, spent most of those years at the old Northlands Coliseum, home to the great Oilers teams of the 1980s.

'Going into that building that night for the (first) game ... they were still screwing in some seats'

End of an Era: Rod Phillips

7 years ago
Duration 1:06
Veteran broadcaster Rod Phillips looks back on the arena's 'Coliseum' beginnings and the Edmonton Oilers dynasty days.

Former Oilers play-by-play man Rod Phillips doesn't hang out in many hockey rinks anymore. These days he spends much of his time in the Arizona desert.

The longtime voice of the Oilers retired five years ago and now works on his short game down in Phoenix.

It's a much different life than what he was used to.

"It's about plus 28 C today. There's always a little breeze, it's just absolutely gorgeous weather, " joked Phillips after wrapping up his morning round while doing this interview.

Phillips could be considered one of the NHL's iron man announcers. The Hall of Famer spent 37 years calling Oilers games — 3,542 of them.

Phillips still remembers the night he called the Oilers first game in the then-named Northland's Coliseum, 42 years ago. 

"I can remember going into that building that night for the game, and they were still screwing in some seats in the top section of the building," recalls Phillips, who did the play-by-play that night in front of a sold out crowd and an Oilers 4-1 win over WHA opponent Cleveland. 

'A night to remember'

"That was a night to remember, the first ever game. They only had about 15,500 seats in the building at that time. The building was full, it was just really an exciting night," said Phillips.

The Coliseum was a big step up from the old gardens where the games used to be played.

"In its day, it was a great hockey building. It was one of the best in the country. You know, they had that great press box up there, that ran right around the entire ice surface, so it was a really good broadcast location, it was a state-of-the-art building when it went up in '74."
Rod Phillips calls his last Oiler game March 29th, 2011.

Four years later, things changed for Phillips and the rest of the organization as a young pimple-faced kid name Wayne Gretzky rolled into town. It was the start of an amazing 10-year run for the team. 

In that time Phillips called five Stanley Cup wins.

"Through that run, there was five Stanley Cups. I think the first Stanley Cup on May 19, 1984 — the first one is always the best one — so, I think that particular championship certainly is a very big part of some of my favourite things."

He also called the game that the Great One scored five goals to make hit 50 goals in 39 games.

'So many great things'

"It was a remarkable record. The season he scored 216 points was another. There just were so many great things about that great team through the '80s. Almost too much to remember."

The winning fostered a great atmosphere in the old arena, he said.

Whether hanging out in the stands watching practice or in one of the cavernous rooms behind the dressing room, there was always something going on.

Phillips credits Glen Sather for all of that, instrumental in turning the young superstars into grown men.

"Glen Sather was coaching the team, he was more like a father to his players," Phillips said, recalling some of the lighter moments in the annals of the old Coliseum.

"He went so far as to have a tie class one day. He wanted everybody to wear ties when they travelled, and a lot of guys didn't know how to tie a tie. 

"So, he took a couple of ties in one day and showed them how to tie Windsor knots, and then everybody had to go through and prove that they could learn from him on how to tie Windsor knots, so there's millions of little stories like that," chuckled Phillips. 

Eventually, like many of the players before him, Phillips called it a career, calling his last Oiler game on March 29, 2011.

Phillips was recognized with a ceremony at center ice with his family. A banner with his name and the number 3,542 was raised to the rafters alongside those of Gretzky, Messier, and other Oilers greats.

'I was very emotional'

"The crazy thing about it was that I had no idea that a banner was going up when I walked out to center ice. There was going to be a presentation from Kevin Lowe," Phillips said.

"I didn't notice the banner was on the ice and that they were going to raise it.

"When they started to put the banner up, then I was very emotional. I just couldn't believe the Oilers would do that for me."

Phillips is planning to be at Rexall Place for the team's last game on April 6. 

Will it be as emotional for him?

"Rexall has had its day," he said. "It was built in the '70s and now it's 2016.

"We're moving forward with what will probably be — well not just probably, it'll be the best hockey building in the world and it's going to do a great amount for the downtown part of Edmonton.

"There's just no negatives about it. It's going to be a fabulous place to go to. I just can't wait until next September to get into the building and watch them go."


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