|Chase Wouters, right, signs autographs at a post-game skate with the Blades.|
In a fickle market like Saskatoon that is becoming more and more saturated with sports teams, you have to keep doing the school visits, appearances at community functions and having game themes that involve the community to keep your team’s brand in the minds of the people.
The Blades ended the 2018-19 campaign on a high note. They returned to the WHL playoffs for the first time since 2013 posting a WHL’s fourth best regular season record at 45-15-8.
Their roster was filled with numerous likable players like captain Chase Wouters, Kirby Dach, Nolan Maier, Max Gerlach, Riley McKay, Dawson Davidson, Brandon Schuldhaus, Gary Haden, Ryan Hughes, Kyle Crnkovic, Randen Schmidt and Dorrin Luding.
|Riley McKay, right, has fun with a young fan at a skate with the Blades.|
That set up a showdown with their archrivals the Prince Albert Raiders, who finished first overall in the regular season standings with a 54-10-2-2 mark.
The Blade fell in an intense six-game series. The Raiders advanced on to win the Ed Chynoweth Cup as WHL champions.
Saskatoon’s season ended with a 6-3 loss to Prince Albert in Game 6 of that second round clash. That contest was played at the SaskTel Centre and drew 10,521 spectators.
While the Raiders had a large contingent of fans following their team down from “Hockey Town North,” it would be safe to say 70 per cent of the people in that crowd were out to support the Blades. Over five playoff home games, the Blades drew an average of 7,428 spectators per contest.
|The Blades are active with school visits like this on in January of 2018.|
A surge at the gates late in the regular season in 2018-19 helped the Blades show a small improvement in average attendance. The most uplifting sight was the fact the Blades drew attendance figures of 4,270, 4,555, 4,454 and 9,188 in each of their respective final four home regular season games.
The positive momentum the Blades had built by the end of the campaign can potentially create a false sense of security or the perception that the good times are about to roll.
|Some of the performers that are seen at the Blades’ First Nations night.|
Going into the 2019-20 campaign, the Blades need to continue their community ground game they have had since Edmonton product Mike Priestner became the owner of the team before the start of the 2013-14 campaign.
Steve Hogle was the brains behind a lot of the community and game day initiatives the Blades put forward, when he became the team’s president before the 2013-14 campaign.
|People take their citizenship oath at the Blades’ “welcome the world” game.|
While both of those nights usually involve a tonne of moving parts, they create a feeling of inclusion, which helps attract new fans.
Hogle stepped down from the president’s role after the Blades were eliminated from the 2019 WHL playoffs but will continue to be an alternate governor with the Saskatoon franchise. Hogle’s new role will allow him to live back in Edmonton, where he and his wife, Cathy, will be closer to family.
|Steve Hogle was behind lots of the Blades community and game day events.|
With Hogle residing more in Edmonton and Mapes departing to Prince Albert, the youngsters are left to execute the community and game day initiatives for the team.
Blades general manager Colin Priestner has taken on the president’s role. Tyler Wawryk was promoted from being the team’s manager of communication to director of business operations.
The club’s business operations staff is filled with young faces like Kim Varty, Maclean Nelson, Eric Anderson, Allie Lindal, Caitlyn Gray and Mat Lukash.
|The Blades community involvement helps bring out the fans.|
Overall, I think the youngsters are ready to run and continue what Hogle and Mapes did.
Going into the 2019-20 season, the Blades will return popular players like Wouters, Maier and Crnkovic. Dach could end up playing in the NHL for the Chicago Blackhawks, who selected him third overall in June’s NHL Entry Draft and have signed him to a three-year NHL entry-level contract.
If Dach returns, he becomes another good person the Blades can have in the community.
head coach Mitch Love has the potential to be another person that can become
enduring in the community. He has always become popular in his previous WHL
stops most notably as a player and coach with the Everett Silvertips, but also
as a player with the Moose Jaw Warriors and Swift Current Broncos.
|Blades right-winger Ryan Hughes sends a stick to the fans last season.|
Blades have always been strong when it comes to community and game day initiatives since Mike Priestner became the team’s owner.
For the Saskatoon club, this is a “do not fix what isn’t broken” spot and something that needs to continue in the future.
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