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
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.”
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.