A new era begins for the University of Saskatchewan Huskies on Friday night as the women’s hockey team hosts the first ever game at Merlis Belsher Place.
The $51-million facility opened its doors to the public on Monday, but Oct. 5 marks the first ticketed event at the rink when the University of Alberta Pandas come to town.
Third-year goalie Jessica Vance and the rest of the women’s team first toured the arena Monday morning, and she was impressed by the amenities — going so far as to compare the new dressing rooms to the homes of NHL teams.
“It’s awesome, you feel like an all-star now,” she said.
The fan atmosphere is expected to improve over the conditions at the 88-year-old Rutherford Rink, which felt cramped and cold and only had stands on one side of the ice.
Now there are seats around three sides of the ice, with a benched student section located between the beer taps and where the visiting goalie will defend the net in the first and third periods.
Head coach Steve Kook said it’s been amazing to witness so many first reactions to the new arena, and he hopes his players see a lot more on Friday.
“Hopefully that student section is full, that’s a huge part of college athletics,” he said.
“Coming out and making life terrible for the opposition goaltender.”
Third-year forward Emily Upgang said teams like the Pandas will know whose home it is.
“Teams are going to be excited to play here, but it’s our rink and we’re going to show them that,” she said.
The Huskies enter their season opener after going to the U Sports national tournament last season in London, Ont. where they lost 4-0 in the bronze medal game to Concordia.
They lost star forwards Kaitlin Willoughby Kori Herner, Kennedy Harris and defender Kira Bannatyne to graduation and come into the new season with a young team.
However, Upgang said they stack up well against the rest of the Canada West conference.
“We definitely have speed, that’s one thing we’ve got going for us,” she said.
“As a team, we all work really well together and things have been clicking that’s for sure.”
An opening ceremony introducing the team and the donors who made the arena a reality will begin at 7 p.m.
— With files from 650 CKOM’s Wray Morrison and Keenan Sorokan.