- Andrew Kulyk
SaskTel Centre - Saskatoon Blades
Photos by Andrew Kulyk, Stadium Journey
Stadium Info FANFARE Score: 3.43
3515 Thacher Ave.
Saskatoon, SK S7R 1C4
Year Opened: 1988
Blades of Glory
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.
Food & Beverage 3
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.
Return on Investment 5
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.