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Official Review by Jim Flannery, Stadium Journey Regional Correspondent
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.
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 around Credit Union Centre offer all the usual arena fare. You'll find hamburgers ($5.25), nachos, ($5.00), pop ($3.75 for a small) and, like most Canadian venues these days, the Quebecois treat, poutine ($5.75 for french fries smothered in gravy and cheese curds).
You'll also find a few locations selling a decent selection of beer and other alcoholic beverages.
What you won't find, however, is much out of the ordinary. The eats I sampled at the game were all tasty (the burgers and hot dogs are all made with Schneider's meats, which are always a cut above), but the selection is fairly pedestrian.
Crowds at Blades games tend to be between 4,000 and 5,000 fans. In a stadium built for 15,000, that's not a lot. As a result, most of the upper seating bowl is closed, with curtains drawn, to give the place a more intimate feel.
As with most junior hockey crowds I've been around, the audience is fairly subdued, keeping the energy level in the stands relatively low for most of the game. Having 4,800 people spread around a lower bowl that could easily accommodate at least a third more dilutes that energy even more.
Having said that, it's a generally positive atmosphere, with the appropriate cheers at the right times in the stands.
You'll also find all the team's championship banners and retired number banners proudly on display above the rink, giving the place a good sense of the team's history.
The location of Credit Union Centre was very controversial when the arena was announced in the late 80s. Located in the Agriplace Industrial Park north of the Saskatoon International Airport, it is a couple kilometers north of the city proper, which means anyone visiting will be in for a trip, either by car or bus.
Although there are a number of industrial businesses around Credit Union Centre, there is virtually nothing in the way of food or entertainment options in the area. A few blocks away you'll find a Tim Horton's, a Subway and, across Highway 11 in the Travel J truck stop, there is a Denny's.
In other words, if you'd like a bite to eat before or after the game, you'll again be going for a drive, as there really isn't anything locally.
The good news is that Circle Dr. on the north end of Saskatoon is only a couple kilometers south of the rink. On the southeast corner of the intersection between Highway 11 and Circle Dr. you'll find a Tony Roma's and other entertainment choices just grow from there as you travel east, west or south.
The university-age kids seated next to me at the Blades game were quite keen to go hang out at "the Scuzz" after the game. As I learned, that's the nickname of the Sutherland Bar, a popular spot for university kids to party at, located just east of the University of Saskatchewan campus. If that's your kind of scene, pencil in the Scuzz for a post-game visit.
Blades fans are generally fairly low-key (aside from one gentleman behind me who enthusiastically bellowed at the teams on the ice all game long), but they recognize and reward great plays with cheers and punish poor plays (and poor calls) with boos. As it seems wherever I go in the WHL, the fans here know their hockey and are paying attention, even if they aren't always demonstrative.
In spite of being on the outskirts of town, access to Credit Union Centre is pretty easy. The arena is located in between Highways 11 and 16, so getting there is relatively simple, although it may be a bit of a drive from the south end of town.
There are 4,000 parking spots around the facility and they are free, so there is ample parking for those who drive. There is also transit service from the downtown bus mall for all games, making that an easy option as well for those who don't want to drive.
Once inside, the concourse is relatively roomy for the size of crowd in attendance and concession stands are well queued to keep lines from interfering with the flow of people.
Tickets for Blades games range from $21.50-$27.50 for adults, with most seats also available to youths (age 13-17) for $14.00 and to children (ages 5-12) for $10.00. As compared to most professional sports out there, the price is pretty darn good, particularly when there really isn't a bad seat in the house.
Banners hanging above the rink, proudly display the championships the Blades have won over the years. There are also banners displaying the names of the six Blades alumni who have had their jersey numbers retired.
In the concourse, you'll find a trophy case displaying the many accomplishments of the Blades as well as the annual team awards.
Also in the concourse, you'll find a well-appointed Team Store where you can pick up Blades apparel and memorabilia, from pucks to pins.
There are a number of spots along the concourse where tables are set up for fans to make use of between periods while enjoying a snack from the concessions. Along the inner walls by these tables are banks of TVs allowing people to check out what else is happening in the sports world.
Team mascot Poke Check, a big furry Yeti, makes his way around the stands through the game, helping entertain the kids in the audience and assisting with various giveaways and promotions.
Outside the arena, on the west side of the main entrance, is a statue in honor of local hero, and arguably the greatest hockey player of all time, Gordie Howe.
Credit Union Centre still looks good after 25 years of service. Upgrades to the building have kept it looking fresh and the maintenance staff keeps it squeaky clean.
If you're in the Saskatoon area, checking out the Blades should be on your list of things to do. A good show at a good price in a good venue spells quality entertainment for any sports fan.
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.
414 Cumberland Ave N
Saskatoon, SK S7N 1M6
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