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Official Review by Andrew Kulyk, Stadium Journey Special Correspondent
True story. Back in 1983, a Saskatoon-based investment group put together a deal to buy the NHL St. Louis Blues and move them to Saskatoon, a city that was off the grid for most hockey fans. Plans were put in place for a new arena to replace a dated historic downtown venue that had served the city well. Front office staffers were hired, and moving plans were put in place. And then it all derailed when the NHL Board of Governors refused to support the move. Lawsuits went flying from all sides, and in the end the Blues stayed put in St. Louis.
Out of the disappointment of that debacle came a gleaming new arena and showplace for hockey in Saskatoon, an arena initially dubbed Saskatchewan Place. Fans who liked the old and creaky downtown barn weren't happy with the move. But with numerous renovations, expansions, and now a showplace for some major events, the arena is now embraced within the community.
Their principal tenants, the WHL Saskatoon Blades, are one of the charter franchises of the Western Hockey League, now going on 50 years as an anchor of that junior league. Add the newly relocated Saskatchewan Rush of the National Lacrosse League (NLL), a team drawing sellouts, including opening up the upper deck.
The FANFARE scale is our metric device for rating each stadium experience. It covers the following:
Each area is rated from 0 to 5 stars with 5 being the best. The overall composite score is the "FANFARE Score".
Concession stands are amply scattered throughout the single main concourse, and nothing exceptional really stands out among the food choices. A barbecue stand offers BBQ brisket on a bun, BBQ chicken burger, and BBQ pulled pork sandwich ($6.75) along with BBQ pulled pork poutine ($6).
There are also the standard hot dogs, foot longs, burgers, pizza and fries. Taco in a bag ($4.75) seems to be a popular item in these parts, and also a mention for the parmesan garlic fries ($5). One can also have the kettle chips topped with parmesan garlic if you ask.
Pepsi products are served, and the beer selection is skimpy.
The biggest minus is the sheer lack of big crowds to ramp up the noise. With the size of the building, on most nights the upper deck is cordoned off with a huge curtain, placing the patrons in the lower seating areas. Even with an average crowd of 5,000, that does not fill the place, so the energy and noise is a bit muted and subdued.
The fans who do make it here are spirited and knowledgeable. This is a Canadian prairie city with a good number of favorite hockey sons who made it big from this region, and another good number of marquee players who came through here.
Ugh. Place an arena in the middle of an industrial and office park, surround it with acres of parking, road access right through these desolate parks and onto area freeways, and to top it all off, the flatness and emptiness of airport runways just a mile or so to the southwest. There is absolutely no charm or elegance at all to the Sasktel Centre neighborhood, and one could only imagine how much nicer things would be if this identical structure was placed somewhere downtown, where there seems to be ample space.
Most of the good eateries are a couple miles south of the arena straddling Circle Drive (Rt 16). Recommendations include Fox and Hounds Pub and Brewery, or Birmingham's Vodka and Ale House. Try Grainfield's Family Restaurant if you're looking for comfort food and some local memorabilia, and even a treasure trove of trivia on the menu.
The fans who support the Blades, and for that matter, supporters of visiting teams who make the trip for nearby rival cities like Swift Current and Prince Albert, are passionate and know their hockey. A good game night presentation adds to the fun, with a big furry white haired mascot named Poke Check working the crowd. There is just the appropriate level of music bumps and clever videos without being overwhelming.
If you have a car you are golden. Head north from the city and follow the signs to the arena off of the well marked road off of either Highway 11 or Highway 16 which split off just before the arena exits. There is parking on all sides of the arena and entry and exit from the parking lots are seamless.
There is express shuttle public transportation service from the City Centre Transit Hub to SOME events at the Sasktel Centre. Best to check in at the City Centre Transit website before making plans to ride the bus.
Tickets start from $10, and run up to as high as $31 for the top tier premium seats. Here's an advance notice - purchase them before the day of the game and you'll save $2-$3 per ticket.
Parking is free, with the exception of a small VIP lot where patrons can pre purchase parking right outside the door. With vast amounts of parking surrounding the building that seems like a waste of money. Concession prices are on the reasonable side.
Saskatchewan's true favorite son is hockey icon Gordie Howe, and his statue is on the entrance plaza on the west entrance to the building, providing a good photo opportunity.
WHL division and championship banners hang smartly across the rooflines of the seating bowl.
And another star for a series of bronze plaques in one section of the end zone concourse, memorializing the two IIHF World Juniors that this building has hosted, along with the Brier Curling Championships. The venue was also the host for the 2013 Memorial Cup.
In a league which runs the gamut of arenas from little more than an oversized community rink to the opulence of Edmonton's Rogers Place, Saskatoon has itself a venue which has weathered well in its 30 years of existence, and has a "big league" feel even as a host for a junior team. The addition of indoor lacrosse has bolstered the building's standing, even though the NLL is for the most part a shambles with its shifting franchises and lack of national sports legitimacy. No matter, fans pack the place. All in all, a visit to the Sasktel Centre is a must do when visiting the region.
Member Review by sportsroadtrips on Feb 25, 2012
In 1982, WHL founder "Wild Bill" Hunter tried to buy the St. Louis Blues and move them to Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. He found commitments for 18,000 season tickets, but the NHL blocked the move and the Blues remain in St. Louis to this day. There was one positive development from his efforts though, as the city built a new hockey arena not quite large enough to host the NHL on a regular basis, but more than enough to handle many other world-class events. Opened in 1988 and called Saskatchewan Place, it has since seen two World Junior Hockey Championships, three Briers (Canada’s men’s curling championship), the WWF, and a number of other big sporting events, including some NHL pre-season games. In 2004, a group of Saskatchewan credit unions bought the naming rights and the venue was given its current moniker. In 2008-09, the facility underwent renovations in advance of the 2010 World Junior Hockey Championship, resulting in a seating capacity over 15,000, making it one of the largest venues in the WHL, although much of the seating bowl is closed off for these games.
Member Review by calgaryjimbo on Jan 30, 2014
The Saskatoon Blades came to be in 1964 as part of the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League and became one of the charter members of the Western Hockey League for the 1966-67 season. The Blades are, in fact, the only original WHL team still playing in their original city.
During the team’s formative years, they played their games in the Saskatoon Arena, commonly known as “the Barn,” which was situated along the riverfront in downtown Saskatoon. The aging building was replaced in 1988 by Saskachewan Place, also known as SaskPlace. The name was changed in 2004 to Credit Union Centre and remains the home of the Blades.
The Blades have a long and storied history in Saskatoon. They’ve been to the WHL championship five times and lost the 1989 Memorial Cup by just a single goal to the Swift Current Broncos. Along the way the team has had 110 of its players drafted by the NHL, including Wendel Clark, Brian Skrudland and NHL Hall of Famer Bernie Federko.
Credit Union Centre has undergone a number of renovations, expansions and improvements over the years, with seating capacity more than doubled in that time. The facility can now hold more than 15,000 people. As a result, Credit Union Centre has played host to a number of high profile events, including the men’s and women’s Canadian curling championships, the 2010 World Junior Hockey Championships, the Memorial Cup and any number of first-rate concerts and exhibitions.
414 Cumberland Ave N
Saskatoon, SK S7N 1M6
810 Central Avenue
Saskatoon, SK S7N 2G6
20-7 Assiniboine Dr
Saskatoon, SK S7K 1H1
810 Cir Dr E
Saskatoon, SK S7K 3T8
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