Travelling the province one arena at a time

One of the neat things about being a sports reporter, especially here at the Battlefords News-Optimist, is the fact that you have the chance to cover events all over the province.

It also means that your car will be cursing at you with the amount of miles you will be putting on it during the course of the year, but I digress.

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At least my 2009 Pontiac G5 is used to that sort of punishment, as I’ve tended to do massively over-the-top road trips over the last few years, including driving an hour each way from Airdrie to Red Deer for an entire week last May to cover the Memorial Cup.

So with the summer officially in full swing, I figured what better time than to talk about the new buildings I got a chance to visit around Saskatchewan since I started work here in North Battleford last July.

A brief disclaimer before we get started. While I did go to games at Mosaic Place in Moose Jaw, the Brandt Centre in Regina and the Credit Union iPlex in Swift Current, I had already gone to those buildings during my time working at the Moose Jaw Times-Herald where I covered the Western Hockey League.

Naturally, any discussions of a new rink I visited over the course of the last year starts off with the rinks in this area, and in particular the North Battleford Civic Centre.

Immediately upon walking into the facility to cover the Gold Eagle Casino’s PBR Challenge last July, the number of Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League rinks that I had been in had doubled to two.

Mind you, the only time I’ve been to the Farrell Agencies Arena in Yorkton was to cover a Grand Slam of Curling event in 2015, though I’ll save that tale of driving through a snow storm in the wee hours of the morning to watch 12 hours of curling for another time and place.

Although there are times that the Civic Centre shows its age, especially at the Grand Slam of Curling’s Canadian Open this year when a number of people stumbled or fell on the steep stairs the rink has, the differences in how one end has a much higher seating level than the other makes it one of the most unique buildings I’ve ever been in.

Plus ­– and this was especially true during the Battlefords North Stars run to the Canalta Cup this year – the atmosphere in the building can be pretty wild when the team’s playing at the top of their game.

In October, I had the chance to finally visit the SaskTel Centre in Saskatoon for a Saskatoon Blades game, having already been in it a year earlier just to get a tour of the place.

Although it’s a very nice facility, it felt like it was way too big to be hosting a junior hockey league game, as the rink currently holds 15,195 seats.

Granted, that might change a bit if the Blades finally turn the corner and make the playoffs for the first time since 2013, so it could be worth visiting again if they are in contention in the years to come.

A couple of months later, I boarded the Battlefords North Stars team bus and proceeded to spit out chocolate milk all over the coaching staff and play by play man Nathan Kanter after assistant coach Braden Johnson told a joke.

After I cleaned things up, we arrived at the home of the Humboldt Broncos as I got a chance to cover a game at the Elgar Petersen Arena.

The home of the 2012 RBC Cup tournament, the rink reminded me quite a lot of Mosaic Place in Moose Jaw, which I got to go to on a regular basis while writing about the Warriors and the WHL.

Although the capacity is smaller in Humboldt, the way the seating is set up puts you right above the boards and is a pretty neat vantage point to watch a game from.

If you have a chance to go to the rink there, I highly recommend doing so, especially to see all of the old team photos that are around the concourse.

Once the bitterness of winter passed in early March, I made the trek to the Art Hauser Centre in Prince Albert to go watch the Prince Albert Raiders take on the Brandon Wheat Kings.

Thanks to former News-Optimist reporter Brett Smith, who now works with the Raiders, I was able to get a seat up in the press box for the game and had the chance to watch Wheat Kings forward Nolan Patrick one more time before he was drafted second overall by the Philadelphia Flyers in the National Hockey League draft this past weekend.

With a capacity of 3,366 if you include the standing room section, the Art Hauser Centre is a nice throwback rink but does have the feel of a newly renovated facility after renovations were done 12 years ago.

In that sense, it’s very similar to the smaller-in-size Credit Union iPlex in Swift Current, which also had renovations done 10 years ago but still has the feel of an old-school rink.

I’m a sucker for rinks that aren’t quite the cookie-cutter model that are in vogue at the moment in junior hockey, so I highly recommend going to a game in Prince Albert or Swift Current if you have a chance.

A couple of weeks later, I made the drive down to Weyburn to cover the fourth game of the North Stars SJHL quarter-final series against the Red Wings at Crescent Point Place.

The way the arena is set up seating-wise, the venue reminds me quite a lot of the home of the Terriers, which made it a rather enjoyable rink to visit.

With it being an elimination game, there was good energy in the building, especially in the final minutes as the Red Wings tried to tie the game up.

It’s another rink you should check out if you have a chance, and not just because the legendary KFC buffet is nearby.

The rink that stands out the most this year, however, was the one I visited back in April, as I made the long drive north to Flin Flon to attend the fourth game of the Canalta Cup final at the Whitney Forum.

When I walked into the home of the Bombers, the first things I noticed was the old school TSN and RDS logos that are on the ticket stand from when the team hosted the RBC Cup.

I knew right then and there that this would be one of the coolest rinks I’ve ever been in.

It’s kind of hard to put into words what makes the Whitney Forum a memorable experience, but I think it’s a combination of a couple of things.

For one, since it’s another older rink, the atmosphere and design of the building makes it an awesome one. There are stands up at both ends of the arena and the seats on either side of the building put you right on the ice.

Then there’s the history. When you have banners honouring Reggie Leach and Bobby Clarke among others, there’s no doubt how much the building and the Bombers mean to the community of Flin Flon.

Plus, the drive to the rink is pretty awesome. Although the road is winding and rough at times, it reminded me a lot of driving through Northwestern Ontario and would be really scenic at the start of a SJHL season.

Also, any time you can see the Northern Lights after watching a team win their first league championship since 2000 like the North Stars did is a good way to cap off a memorable evening.

Now, remember how I said that the SaskTel Centre might be a bit too big to hold a WHL team earlier in this article?

Well, they might need to add seats to host playoff games for the National Lacrosse League’s Saskatchewan Rush, which I found out first hand in May when they took on the Colorado Mammoth in the West final.

While the Saskatchewan Roughriders will always be the top team in the province, and the Regina Pats are currently making noise after their run to the WHL final this spring and earning the chance to host the Memorial Cup next year, the Rush are easily the main attraction in Saskatoon at the moment.

It’s pretty easy to see why. In addition to some high quality lacrosse, the atmosphere is loud from the moment the pre-game events get underway and the chanting and cheering doesn’t stop until the final buzzer.

Even if you are just a casual observer, it’s not hard to find yourself getting into the experience, unless you’re the drunk guy who hopped over the glass in the final seconds of the game and got escorted out by security.

All in all, it’s been a pretty fun time travelling the province to visit new buildings this year, especially since I’ve now been to every WHL arena in Saskatchewan.

Naturally, I’m already planning out what buildings I’d like to go to starting this fall, as there are always new rinks and stadiums to attend.

At the moment, I’m looking into trips to Brooks and Bonnyville, Alta. in September for pre-season games, and I may make a trip to Lethbridge to visit the home of the Hurricanes.

Other than that, everything else is wide open. So feel free to share any suggestions on where you think I should go to once the hockey season gets underway.

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