Saskatoon Blades

Saskatoon Blades

Arena Name: Sasktel Centre
Capacity: 15,100
Built: 1988
Address: 3315 Thatcher Ave., Saskatoon, SK, S7R 1C4
Telephone: (306) 975-8844
Ice Surface Size: Regulation
Franchise Date: 1967-68
WHL Championships: None
Memorial Cup Championships: None
Colours: Blue, Gold & White
Official Web Site: SaskatoonBlades.com
Venue Web Site: SasktelCentre.com
Former Arena: Saskatoon Arena

WHL

 Sasktel Centre

Sasktel Centre

 What's the Arena Like?

First Visit: February 9, 2024
CHL Arena: 75
WHL Arena: 18

When you start travelling to hockey games as a hobby, as an end in itself rather than just to see your own team play on the road, you naturally start thinking of hockey cities in terms of geographically-adjacent groups. Junior hockey is a weekend league, primarily, and with a single Friday off work it's generally possible to see a "three-in-three" easily enough by finding three nearby cities with games scheduled at appropriate times. In seeing the WHL from my base in southwestern Ontario, I've generally managed to see the league in a geographically-logical fashion - a 3-in-3 to Saskatchewan in 2019, a 3-in-3 in Alberta in 2023, and so forth. My best and longest trip was a roadie between Winnipeg and Vancouver in 2022 in which I knocked off six teams, from Brandon all the way to Seattle and Everett, as well as hitting several national parks with my wife and seeing family in Vancouver. By the winter of 2024, only five years after my first WHL game, I only had one CHL team left to see play at home in Canada - the dreaded outlier.

It didn't work for me in terms of scheduling to see Saskatoon on any previous trip, so to get to all 60 I needed to make a one-off trip to Saskatoon despite having seen every other WHL team within a thousand kilometres play at home already. I monitored ULCC flights all year, and finally jumped on a deal to fly into YXE in early February 2024. This was a one-shot visit. I didn't need to go back to see any other teams on this trip, and so I made a three-hour flight out of Toronto the night before and spent the day in town for a one-off - the longest one-off I've ever done by some margin.

If Sasktel Centre has a spiritual twin in Canada, it's Copps Coliseum in Hamilton. Both arenas were built in the 1980's by hopelessly optimistic city councils on the deluded dream of landing an NHL team, and both are far too large for the market in which they serve, failing to sell out all but the rarest big events. Opening in 1988, SaskPlace (as it was known when it opened) was built in what was then a farm field beside the highway and adjacent to Saskatoon's airport. The debate about whether to build the new arena downtown or in the suburbs raged in the mid 1980's before a decision was finally made, and to this day, the area around the building is nothing more than an industrial park. There's a hotel within walking distance, which I took full advantage of to save on parking, but otherwise, there's nothing around at all of note to the hockey fan. And yet, somehow, this felt okay to me, as I grew up going to games at the London Gardens, which was also built in an industrial park on the urban fringe of the city.

The arena sits surrounded by parking lots, with ample parking for even 15,000-strong crowds. It's a squat, oval building clad in beige, with a large marquee sign and a glass lobby facing the main entrance. At night the building is brightly-illuminated in colour, but during the day the bare concrete facade is totally free of ornamentation save a large marquee sign announcing the arena's name.

I'd actually been inside SaskTel Centre once, in 2019, when a bored team employee was only too happy to give us a quick tour as we stopped off on a drive between Prince Albert and Moose Jaw during my first WHL 3-in-3. But there's nothing to beat seeing an arena alive on game night, and in 2024 I made the short walk from my hotel over for doors-open, entering the concourse and making a quick lap of the building as one of the first hundred or so fans inside.

SaskTel Centre is a typical 1980's coliseum, designed and laid out much the same as any other comparable building from the Pacific to the Nassau to the Northlands Colisea. There's a single concourse located between the lower and upper bowls, and while I vaguely recall bare concrete in 2019, today the decor is bold, with all available surfaces painted green, blue, purple or orange depending on which zone of the arena you're in. I'm not usually critical of colour, but considering the Blades have been the primary tenant since it opened, it seems weird they picked purple and orange when gold was right there. I always prefer an arena be painted in team colours, and yes, there's lacrosse and basketball teams present as well, but when all the seats are Blades blue, you may as well go the rest of the way, right?

When it opened, SaskPlace was laid out with a U-shaped lower bowl and two grandstand-style upper decks on the sides only, but multiple expansions have taken place over the years. The arena was roughed-in with room to make it a true coliseum, and for the 2010 World Juniors the work was finally completed, to the point there's now two bowls of 15,000 seats, and the end expansions have their own upper concourse, which would help with traffic management when warranted. Originally the access to the upper level was like Saint John or Hamilton, with simple stairs up from the concourse, but there's now a suite level at the back of the lower bowl around most of the rink, so access has moved around a lot since the rink was built. And to get this out of the way right away - yes, it's too many seats. The upper bowl is curtained-off for Blades games, and in their entire history the Blades have only sold out the rink completely for the Connor Bedard show in 2023.

So what's it like? Unlike Copps Coliseum (or Edmonton's NHL monstrosity, for that matter), SaskPlace at least only has 15,000 seats and is designed in a utilitarian, 1980's way without a lot of extra building footprint. Compared with other full-scale rinks, it's obvious how much smaller it is. Of all the places I've seen junior hockey in half-full NHL-sized arenas, Saskatoon is probably the best. And sure, you're only comparing situations that aren't ideal in the first place, but the best of a bad lot is still the best, right?

I found the experience of going to a Blades game to be significantly better than expected. Sure, the Blades were the top team in the CHL in 2023-24, and the fact the lower bowl was 90% full helped, but I found Blades crowds to be typically English Canadian; a little quiet, maybe, but knowledgeable and very much into the game. The concourse easily handled a nearly sold-out lower bowl, and apart from a preponderance of kids with obnoxious horns, there wasn't anything much to dislike. I went in with low expectations and had them far surpassed.

I also found game presentation to be mostly great in Saskatoon. The video board is quality, though the sound system is a little outdated and could use upgrading. The graphics package was mostly retro-themed, which I enjoyed, and it made great use of their classy old-school logo and colours. My favourite thing was the graphic that showed all game long of the Blades logo rendered as Pac-Man, chasing and eventually eating the Prince Albert Raiders logo with jaws chomping. They also played the Pac-Man intro music after every goal, which, come on, that's awesome.

Finally, after every goal, the Blades (uniquely in the CHL as far as I'm aware) didn't play a goal horn. And I loved that. There's nothing better than just having crowd noise after a goal, and any hockey crowd should be able to make enough of it after a goal for a horn not to be missed. Sure, there's theatrical smoke and flashing sirens, and after the initial surge of crowd noise they play a goal song (some generic hard-rocking Nickelback blandness as of 2024), but the team deserves a ton of credit for (quietly?) going against the grain of literally every other hockey team. Apparently they do normally have one, but it wasn't being used the night I was there, so whether that's going against the grain or just the sound effect being out of order isn't known to me.

I also loved the music selection in Saskatoon. Volume was appropriate to the space, and some of the selections, like Right Back Where We Started From by Maxine Nightingale (also known as That Song from Slap Shot) are rarely heard at hockey arenas despite being great hockey tunes, so kudos to the Blades' DJ.

Saskatoon was my one big outlier in finishing the CHL, and while part of that was the fact that the schedule never worked out for me to get there on any previous trip, it's also the fact that I can't claim to have been that excited to see it in advance. Seeing any hockey game in an arena too big for the crowds they draw is never a great experience, and apart from the crazies in Québec City, no junior team is ever going to regularly sell out an NHL-sized arena. But I'm glad I waited, because the Blades make the best of what they have, and of the CHL teams I've seen play in NHL-sized arenas, the Blades do it best. Is this the best rink in the CHL? Well, no, obviously not. But it's a great hockey experience nonetheless, and I very much enjoyed my one-off trip here. I'd even be excited to some day maybe do it again, and that's certainly not something I ever expected to say when I bought my ticket. If you're in the area, go. It's better than you'd expect.

 Inside Sasktel Centre

SaskPlace

 Future Developments
The city of Saskatoon unveiled conceptual drawings in February 2024 for a new downtown arena and convention centre. The plans call for a 15,900 seat arena that would be expandable to 18,000 seats should the need arise, and the plan would be for it to be completed within the next eight to ten years.

 Franchise History
The Saskatoon Blades got their start in the SJHL in 1964, as a junior team owned by the Senior A Saskatoon Quakers, who were the big name in town at the time. The Blades were a founding member of the WHL in 1966, and have played in the league without interruption ever since. They played downtown at Saskatoon Arena until the end of the 1987-88 season.

 Retired Numbers

7 Gerry Pinder
7 Brent Ashton
10 Brian Skrudland
12 Bob Bourne
15 Bernie Federko
22 Wendel Clark

The Blades also have a #37 banner hanging for the Brodsky family, who owned the team for 37 years, though it is unknown if that number is actually retired from use by the team.

 Feedback
If anything is incorrect or you have something to add, please e-mail me at Email and I'll update the guide.


Copyright © WHL Arena Guide, 2002-24.
All rights reserved.
Last Revised: February 10, 2024