Long wait over as Huskies make de­but at new arena

Ex­cite­ment, joy, re­lief as U of S fi­nally takes to ice at the Merlis Belsher Place

Saskatoon StarPhoenix - - SPORTS - DAR­REN ZARY dzary@post­media.com

There was ex­cite­ment, joy, envy and re­lief.

An ex­cru­ci­at­ingly long wait was fi­nally over.

The Univer­sity of Saskatchewan men’s hockey alumni watched the lucky ones — the 2018-19 Huskies edi­tion — in ac­tion Fri­day night against the Univer­sity of Cal­gary Di­nos in the Huskies men’s de­but at the new Merlis Belsher Place.

Cam Bris­tow, who played for the Hockey Dogs from 1994-98, re­mem­bers ini­tial plans for a new rink back in the ’90s and un­ful­filled prom­ises back then.

“We were (promised a new rink),” said Bris­tow, who was on hand for Fri­day’s home opener. “We went through try­ing to raise money and (former trainer) Pete Herd had a dress­ing room de­sign all worked out and ev­ery­thing. We were look­ing for­ward to some­thing maybe hap­pen­ing, but ob­vi­ously this is quite a few years later.”

Jeff Henkel­man played for the Huskies from 1998 to 2002. He, too, got the re­cruit­ing pitch and a prom­ise of a new rink to play in.

“Yes, two years af­ter I started,” re­called Henkel­man. “I think ev­ery guy who was re­cruited, dur­ing a 20-year-span by (U of S head coach) Dave Adolph was promised a new rink in two years’ time. Well, it came true for some­body.”

That prom­ise has fi­nally been ful­filled.

“It’s been a long time for sure,” said Danny Leier, who played for the Dogs from 1984-89.“Ruther­ford was a great rink and it served its pur­pose. Over the years, it gave the Huskies a home-ice ad­van­tage, but it was time. They did well build­ing this rink and it’s a beau­ti­ful rink. It’s state-of-the art; it’s a won­der­ful place.” Henkel­man agreed.

“It’s beau­ti­ful,” he said. “It’s first­class. It’s just a won­der­ful fa­cil­ity. It’s bright. It’s fan-friendly. It’s a great place to watch. I watched the women’s ( game) last week­end and it was a lot of fun.”

Do they wish they had a chance to play in some­thing like Merlis Belsher Place?

“Well, of course,” replied Bris­tow. “It’s got a nice big ice sur­face and, yeah, you look back at the days we played at Ruther­ford, and you wish you were play­ing in a fa­cil­ity like this.”

“For sure you do,” said Henkel­man, “but, at the end of the day, Ruther­ford treated us pretty well, too, and I have fond mem­o­ries of that barn, but this is ex­cit­ing for the guys on a go-for­ward ba­sis.” Leier looks back with no re­grets. “It’s what you get used to,” said Leier. “We got used to Ruther­ford. Hey, we’re Saskatchewan kids. What­ever they put us on, we used and we used it to our ad­van­tage. When you come to a place like this, how nice it is and how ev­ery­thing is modern — the ice sheet is big­ger and the score-clock in the mid­dle — it’s ev­ery­thing that you kind of want in a rink. It’s pretty good.”

Coach Adolph wasn’t sure if his team would lose the home-ice ad­van­tage it maybe had at the Dog House.

“We’ve lost a bit of an ad­van­tage in that the space we’re play­ing on now is sim­i­lar to a lot of teams, but our guys can’t wait,” said Adolph. “They’re fly­ing through all the space out there. They ’re all skilled. I just think we’re go­ing to be a bet­ter team — maybe not this week­end, but cer­tainly over the next month or so when we adapt. Over the next month or so, you’re go­ing to see a bet­ter Huskie hockey team than what you saw at Ruther­ford, just be­cause of the space and the way we can play.”

And Adolph pre­dicts that fans who stayed away from Ruther­ford will dis­cover a U Sports hockey brand that they’ll quickly adopt.

“Peo­ple are go­ing to love our league,” Adolph promised. “They’re fi­nally go­ing to get a chance to see it in the right set­ting.”

LIAM RICHARDS

Univer­sity of Saskatchewan Huskies for­ward Wy­att John­son, right, bat­tles for the puck dur­ing first-pe­riod U Sport Hockey ac­tion at the brand new Merlis Belsher Place in Saska­toon on Fri­day.

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