A crowd unlike any other in Saskatoon Blades history is expected Sunday afternoon, as the Blades will welcome junior phenom Connor Bedard and the Regina Pats to SaskTel Centre.
As of Friday afternoon, fewer than 100 tickets remained for the tilt which will be the first sellout ever for the Blades and the highest attended game in the franchise’s storied history with a crowd of around 15,000 expected.
“It’s pretty crazy all the hype going around,” said Blades leading scorer Trevor Wong. “Fifteen-thousand… can’t really imagine this rink full just watching us play. So, it’s definitely exciting.”
This will be the first of two home games in a row for the Blades against the Pats, with the second coming less than a week later on March 24.
Bedard, who has taken the hockey world by storm and is the clear-cut first overall pick for the 2023 NHL Draft, has posted a blistering 63 goals and 129 points in just 52 games with Regina as well as a dominant performance for Team Canada at the 2023 World Juniors.
Still, the Blades are excited to come out with a strong effort against their provincial rivals to maybe shift some of the crowd’s attention their way.
“It’s awesome people will come to watch hockey,” said Belarussian sniper Egor Sidorov. “But, hopefully a couple people will watch our Saskatoon Blades hockey too, not only Bedard.”
The environment inside SaskTel Centre will be unlike anything the Saskatoon players have seen before, not only for the large crowd size but with a large chunk of those in attendance buying tickets to see a rival team.
“It’s definitely a bit weird,” said Wong. “We know they’re not all here for us and they’re here for one player. But, I think it’s just going to be really cool for all of us and even them. They’ve played in a couple big games, but for us it’s going to be really cool just to feel that big atmosphere and enjoy it all.”
To handle the crowds, the Blades are doubling or even tripling their staff in certain areas to meet demand.
They’ve also announced a number of free shuttle services for fans at Lawson Heights Mall, Market Mall, Confederation Mall and Centre Mall that will help reduce traffic congestion.
“It’s free, it’s covered by the Blades,” said the team’s director of business operations Tyler Wawryk. “Those busses will be running Sunday starting at 2:15 at all those different mall locations. Plenty of space to park there, hop on the bus, they’ll pull you right up to the doors at the arena so you can get in early and be ready.
“Again, we haven’t seen these crowds for a long time at the arena.”
Five pickup times have also been announced for Saskatoon Transit at their downtown special event stop at 23 Street and 2nd Avenue.
This game could just be the appetizer, as the Blades and Pats are shaping up as likely opponents in WHL playoffs occupying the third and sixth seeds, respectively.
“So, maybe get a little preparation against what they’re going to do here and maybe be prepared for a crowd like this come playoff time.”
The Blades are now just five points away from securing their fifth 100-point season in franchise history, holding a record of 45-14-4-1 entering the weekend.
More than anything, the club is asking fans to arrive to Sunday’s game by 2:30 pm to ensure minimal delays through security with puck drop against Regina scheduled for 4:00 pm.