Friday, 8 February 2019

Blades, Stars, Blazers and Contacts get kicks from “Runnin’ Back to Saskatoon”

Stars C Joelle Fiala celebrates a playoff game winner in Prince Albert.
    Saskatoon Stars centre Joelle Fiala was ready to take out the music man in Prince Albert.
    That was before she became one of the Stars star players.
    About six to seven years ago, Joelle was in Prince Albert watching older brother, Evan, play for the Saskatoon Contacts in a Saskatchewan Midget AAA Hockey League game as they took on the host Mintos at the Art Hauser Centre. Evan would later become the captain of the WHL’s Saskatoon Blades.
    As for the encounter years back in midget AAA, the Mintos won the game, and The Guess Who’s “Runnin’ Back to Saskatoon” blared over the rink’s sound system. In Prince Albert, that tune is the victory song that gets played every time a team from “Hockey Town North” beats a club that hails from “the Bridge City.”
    Joelle, who was around age 11 at that time, wasn’t impressed.
Evan Fiala heard the P.A. song tradition with two teams.
    “When I was younger, I would go to Evan’s games and be hearing that when he was playing midget, and it makes me mad as a sister watching my brother,” said Joelle. “Being a player and hearing it, the first time it is like, “Ah, what the heck.”
    “I think it just gives us more motivation. It is something to kind of joke about.
    “You only really think about it when it is playing. It is not really something that hangs over your shoulder.”
    For at least a decade or more, “Runnin’ Back to Saskatoon” has played in the Art Hauser Centre when the WHL’s Prince Albert Raiders beat the Saskatoon Blades, the Saskatchewan Female Midget AAA Hockey League’s Prince Albert Northern Bears down the Stars and the SMAAAHL’s Mintos defeat the Contacts or the Saskatoon Blazers.
    It is believed the tradition started when Dennis Ogrodnick, who is now a retired teacher from Prince Albert’s St. Mary High School, became the music man for the Raiders, Bears and Mintos. 
Cole Fonstad (#24) enjoys an empty-net goal last Dec. 28 against the Blades.
    A few times following home ice victories by Prince Albert teams over Saskatoon squads, Ogrodnick will write a post on Twitter saying the “Hockey Town North” side that won sent their respective “Toon Town” opponent “Runnin’ Back to Saskatoon.”

    The tradition of playing this song from The Guess Who is synonymous with WHL games between the Raiders and Blades.
    This season on Dec. 28, 2018, the Raiders faced the Blades before a season high crowd of 3,130 spectators at the 2,580 seat Art Hauser Centre. With 9.1 seconds remaining in the third period, Raiders star left-winger Cole Fonstad scored into an empty net to seal a 4-2 victory for the host side.
The Raiders and Blades have an intense rivalry.
    When the empty-net goal was scored, “Runnin’ Back to Saskatoon” was played as the goal song instead of Raiders standard goal song in Dion’s “Runaround Sue” to the most excited cheers of the night from the crowd.
    After the clock ticked to zero, “Runnin’ Back to Saskatoon” again blared through the sound system and the fans in the two sections nearest the Blades bench were singing that tune at the Saskatoon players, coaches and staff as they departed to the dressing room.
    The tradition made former longtime Blades head coach and general manager Lorne Molleken dislike the song.
    As for current first year Blades head coach Mitch Love, he hasn’t placed any extra significance on that Prince Albert tradition.
The P.A. song tradition doesn’t bother Blades HC Mitch Love.
    “I’ll be honest I don’t know if myself or any of the guys pay any attention to that,” said Love. “It is probably more of a fan based thing for them up there, a quirky thing that they do in terms of celebrating victory.
    “You know, good on them I guess.”
    Offensive defenceman Dawson Davidson, who was acquired by the Blades in a trade with the Regina Pats on Jan. 8, 2018, admitted he was oblivious to the “Runnin’ Back to Saskatoon” song tradition in Prince Albert. When the tradition was explained to him, he thought it was actually pretty cool, because it included the Stars, Blazers and Contacts as well as the Blades.
Dawson Davidson is cool with P.A.’s song tradition.
    “I think there is just that rivalry between the two cities that is pretty awesome,” said Davidson, who is a Blades assistant captain. “To know it is not just us, but it is other teams too, it just makes it that much better.
    “Next time I am there, hopefully I won’t hear it. We’ll try and prevent it. It is an awesome rivalry.”
    When he played for the Pats, Davidson was part of their rivalry with the Moose Jaw Warriors, which is often viewed as the greatest rivalry in major junior hockey. He said the rivalry the Blades have with the Raiders is up there with the rivalry the Pats have with the Warriors.
    “I think it has a lot of similarities as that one did last year and the year before,” said Davidson. “Two of the top teams in the league kind of close on the map.
    “When they get together, it is always good games. I remember being a part of Regina (versus) Moose Jaw. It would always be tight games, and it would be back and forth.
    “It would be physical, and the fans would be getting into it. It was an awesome environment. It is kind of the same thing (with Saskatoon and Prince Albert).”
Grace Shirley hasn’t heard the P.A. song tradition so far this season.
    The Stars haven’t had to hear that song this season. They won all four of their regular season matches with the Bears including two encounters in Prince Albert early last December.
    With that said, Stars 17-year-old captain Grace Shirley, who has been a regular with the Saskatoon SFMAAAHL squad since the start of the 2015-16 season, still recalls what it is like living out that tradition.
    “At the time when it is happening, it is a little frustrating obviously because there is a rivalry there,” said Shirley. “Both teams are competitive, and they want to win.
    “It is kind of funny I guess, but at the same time, it can get under your skin a little bit at the time. Anytime you win especially against a team like that where you kind of have history, and it is like a rivalry, obviously, it is a good feeling to like not hear it.”
Max Gudnason and the Blazers want to keep avoiding the P.A. song tradition.
    The Blazers have avoided that tradition too so far this season. They have won all three of their encounters with the Mintos.
    The two sides close out their respective regular season schedules against each other on Feb. 24 at 1:30 p.m. at the Art Hauser Centre.
    Blazers 17-year-old captain Riley Little has enjoyed the run of success against the Mintos and the fact his team has prevented a playing of “Runnin’ Back to Saskatoon.”
    “Last year, this is my second year, it was kind of (crappy),” said Little, who is a standout defensive defenceman. “This year beating them every time, it is kind of funny and (you wonder) what they are thinking and what is going through their mind.”
    Little said P.A.’s song tradition gives his team extra motivation to beat the Mintos. He would like to avoid being part of that song tradition for the rest of the season, but said the Mintos have to be respected for having a good squad.
    “You can’t be too comfortable,” said Little. “Anything can happen.
    “I feel it is a lot of motivation going in there and not losing this year yet. Hopefully, we can maintain and win the series 4-0.”
Evan Bortis and the Contacts fell in P.A. last Oct. 18
    The Contacts split their four regular season encounters with the Mintos in the current campaign. One of the setbacks included falling to the Mintos 7-3 at the Art Hauser Centre last Oct. 18.
    “Playing P.A. is always tough,” said 16-year-old Contacts captain Evan Bortis. “It is always a good barnburner when they come in and we go there.
    “I know it is a very physical game, and I know we hate losing there. It is the worst feeling ever. Winning there is probably one of the best feelings when you beat that team.”
    Bortis admits it irks him when “Runnin’ Back to Saskatoon” is played after the Contacts fall in Prince Albert.
    “It ticks you off a bit,” said Bortis, who is a defensive defenceman that is finding an offensive touch this season. “It makes you want to work harder the next time you play them.
    “It is good sometimes, but sometimes it makes you really mad.”
    Traditionally, the Contacts and Mintos have had one of the most heated rivalries in the SMAAAHL, and Bortis said that rivalry hasn’t died down.
The Stars celebrate a playoff win over the Bears last year.
    “Everyone circles it on their calendar when we play the Mintos,” said Bortis. “It is definitely a big game for all of us, and we really want to beat them.
    “We have a chip on our shoulder every time we lose to them. I just enjoy playing them, and I think our whole team does too. It is always good.”
    While the four Saskatoon teams can be irritated to different degrees, they try to take Prince Albert’s song tradition with some fun.
    As for Saskatoon hockey fans, they often remind supporters of Prince Albert’s hockey teams that at the end of the game they have to live in Prince Albert, and when the dust settles, it is always better to be “Runnin’ Back to Saskatoon.”

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