Big River First Nation hosts four neutral site games at Jim Neilson Sportsplex

Prince Albert Raiders forward Riley Boychuk handles the puck during WHL pre-season action at the Jim Neilson Sportsplex on Big River First Nation. Nathan Reiter/Daily Herald.

For the second season in a row, the Saskatoon Blades and Prince Albert Raiders opened the Western Hockey League (WHL) pre-season at the Jim Neilson Sportsplex on Big River First Nation.

Big River First Nation CEO Derek Klein says it was incredible to have the Raiders and Blades play on Big River for a second straight year.

“It’s amazing. We had another full packed house today (and) a great game. I can’t thank the Raiders and Blades enough to come on bringing the young guys out here. Each team brought 35 guys out here to experience the nation, to experience the cultural enrichment of the community, and better yet, to experience all the communities around us and bring the game the right loves out to the First Nation.”

Last year, the Raiders and Blades played the first ever game during the grand opening of the Jim Neilson Sportsplex. Klein says having both clubs back is important for the youth on Big River First Nation.

“It’s amazing. These Raiders and these Blades are role models for kids out there. Bringing this game out to the community is they have to strive and can be there someday. That’s what we built this rink for. We built this ring for kids for an opportunity to know there’s a way out.”

Prince Albert came away with a 2-1 victory over the Blades with Doogan Pederson’s goal at the start of the third period holding up as the winner.

In 2022, Prince Albert defeated the Blades 6-3. Klein says both the Raiders and Blades have been great to work with.

“They’re both partners with the nation, last year we said it would be awesome to open the Jim Neilson Arena with the rivalry, the Prince Albert Raiders and Saskatoon Blades. The first time we approached (Raider GM) Curtis Hunt and (Blades assistant GM) Steve Hildebrand, they said, ‘absolutely, let’s bring this out this year. To bring it back for the second year was amazing. We hope to keep it going on every year.”

The Raiders and Blades are not the only neutral site game to take place on Big River First Nation. The University of Saskatchewan Huskies and University of Regina Cougars also played a pair of pre-season games at the venue. The Nipawin Hawks and La Ronge Ice Wolves were also set to play at the Jim Neilson Sportsplex on Sept. 15.

Klein says having the ability to host multiple games provides Big River First Nation to showcase their community to individuals who might not have made the trip there otherwise.

“I think we’re a flagship. We are just showing we’ve got a $48 million facility here. We’ve got 12 minor hockey teams here. We’ve got the third artificial soccer turf going in here. I think it’s great for everybody. Also showcase our community to the other surrounding community. There’s a lot of good things going on in First Nations. Not always what you see or hear on the TV or radio, there’s some really good things going on.”