New Mosaic Stadium ready to rock

Twenty-seven months and $278 million dollars later, the new Mosaic Stadium is ready for its first test run.

Capping ticket sales at 50 per cent, so as to only half-fill the stadium, thousands of people will pour through the gates today to check out the Saskatchewan Roughriders' shiny new digs.

Learning from mistakes made from stadium builds in other cities (Winnipeg, Hamilton) the City of Regina left itself lots of breathing room before the main tenants move in permanently and a CFL game is played there next June. 

In the meantime, as they work out the kinks, new Mosaic is set to open its doors for the first of at least two major trials: a university football game with the Regina Rams and the Saskatchewan Huskies doing the honours.

With 16,500 tickets sold, the Rams and Huskies set a Canada West attendance record.

But the teams realize the game itself will play second fiddle to the stadium they play it in.

New Mosaic Stadium

Today's game between the Rams and Huskies will set a Canada West attendance record.

The majority of the curious ticket buyers will likely be busy exploring and gawking at this newest jewel on the prairies, with all the comforts and conveniences that come with it. 

Lost in all the hype and pageantry is the fact there will be a game being played and a pretty big one at that.

To make sure the players themselves did not get caught up in the distractions, both teams had a chance to practice this week — in the new stadium behind closed doors.

"Its absolutely incredible, its quite the stadium. The lights were on, they were shiny, the turf felt great and new," said Rams quarterback Noah Picton. "We got a little bit of the oohing and aahing out of the way and hopefully we will be able to just concentrate on football."

Rams head coach Steve Bryce sensed his team might be dazzled by the magnitude of the event so he tried a little psychology, Hollywood-style.

"We pulled an old Hoosiers on them, like the coach in the movie. We measured the foul line, the basket height. This is what's important guys: it's still 110 yards long, 65 yards wide. A yard's a yard in football and we've got to get a lot of them."

For Huskies head coach Brian Towriss, it's not his first rodeo. He's been coaching for more than three decades and appreciates the need to get his team focused on what really matters to them.

"All the hoopla around the new stadium, first game in there and all of that, that's all great [but] the bottom line: it's a very important game in the Canada West regular season this year — provincial rivalry and all that," said Towriss.

New Mosaic Stadium

Overshadowed by the hype of a new stadium is a pretty important game for the Rams and Huskies.

The players are used to playing in big stadiums, just not in front of big crowds.

Towriss boasts that his team regularly plays in front of large crowds at Griffiths Stadium in Saskatoon. 

"We've made some plans to deal with noise, we've had 9,000 [at Griffiths]," he said. "The 16,500 that will be there [Saturday at Mosaic], half of them will probably be cheering for us too."

The Rams on the other hand may take a little longer to get used the crowd, with an average of 1,600 fans attending their home games this year, not 16,000.

"That's the part we couldn't simulate, [when] you walk out and you see the people sitting in the stands," said Bryce who has overseen his own construction project — rebuilding a football squad.

The first-year head coach of the Rams has taken a team that went winless in 2015 to a team which is currently ranked 4th in the country.

Their 3-1 record is not from beating lightweights either. They have knocked off the defending Vanier Cup champs from UBC, the Calgary Dinos, and the Manitoba Bisons.

Their only blemish, was because of the team they play today, the (2-2) Huskies.

The Rams' third year quarterback doesn't hesitate when asked the reason behind the turnaround for the University of Regina program.

"The guy with the head coaching hat on," Picton said. "He's done a great job of really bringing unity of this group back together, kind of bringing the culture back to the Rams of what it was."

Bryce sensed a lack of belief when he first walked into the Rams' room, for the first time since he played for the organization in the late 80s.

"There was an expectation the whole time I was here of winning, that was what the culture was like for the Regina Rams," Bryce said. "It wasn't if you're going to win, it was by how much you were going to win. In the years I've been away, that's slipped a little bit. It wasn't there anymore."

Today, 16,500 will witness for themselves what Bryce has brought to the Regina Rams and what the university game has to offer football fans.

The unveiling of the new stadium will be a great opportunity to win over some new ones.

"That's what I hope is going to happen" said Bryce. "There's going to be a lot of Riders fans that just want to see a game played in the stadium and appreciate the stadium for itself. This is a great opportunity for us to showcase what we have as far as quality football and with a really local flavour. So we're hoping to catch some fans and say, 'Hey this good, I can get behind this.'"

Gates open at noon for a 2:00 CST kickoff.