Thursday, 2 February 2017

Please don’t let new U of S rink die on political rhetoric

Huskies trainers clear up during a “rust break” at the Rutherford Rink.
    So close, yet so far.
    Those that are linked with the University of Saskatchewan Huskies hockey programs have to be feeling some level of anxiety, if you have followed the latest news regarding the fundraising efforts to build a new twin-pad rink complex on campus.
    In early January, the City of Saskatoon was asked for an additional $3-million to support the new arena complex on campus, which will cost $41-million to build. The facility will be called Merlis Belsher Place, which is named after the U of S alumnus who donated $12.25-million towards the project. The City of Saskatoon has already agreed to put $1-million in towards the facility.
    When the latest request for an additional $3-million was made, it was also stated the fundraising campaign for the new rink was $6-million short of its goal.
    On Monday, Tim Hodgson, who is the chair of the Home Ice Campaign committee that is raising funds for the new rink, appeared before the City of Saskatoon’s planning, development and community services committee to address the latest funding request. The city committee voted unanimously to bump the debate on spending an additional $3-million to the next meeting of city council on Feb. 27.
    If you have ever been to the ancient Rutherford Rink on the U of S campus, you will realize it needs to be replaced in the worse way possible. The 87-year-old facility is best known for its “rust breaks” or “rust delays,” when a puck hits the roof causing rust from the steel beams in the ceiling to rain down on the ice. The training staffs of the Huskies hockey teams proceed to race on to the ice to clean up the mess.
    Actually, it is surprising Rutherford hasn’t been condemned. Back in 1997, then Huskies athletic director Ross Wilson said he was actively pursuing a new rink, and Rutherford needed to be replaced at that time. Since that time, the process to replace Rutherford has had way too many stops and starts.
    After the request was made to the City of Saskatoon for an additional $3-million, those that are connected to the Huskies hockey programs must have a little fear that things might fall through again.
    There hasn’t been any ground breaking to start construction of the new facility despite being $6-million away from raising the total funds that are needed for the project.
    The new facility would allocate one rink to be used by the Huskies men’s and women’s teams for games and practices. The second rink will be mainly used by the Saskatoon Minor Hockey Association, which will gain an additional 1,500 additional hours of ice time per year.
Wyatt Johnson fires a shot on goal at the Rutherford Rink.
    The last new sheet of indoor ice was built in Saskatoon in 1998 with the second pad at the private Rod Hamm Memorial/Harold Latrace Arena. The last public rink was built in 1981, when a hockey ice pad was added to the ACT Arena.
    In my opinion, most of the minor hockey rinks in Saskatoon are dumps. They aren’t dumpy at the level of the Rutherford Rink, but they are still dumps.
    When you step into the six-sheet minor hockey ice palace that is the Co-operators Centre in Regina, you are pretty much embarrassed to say you play out of any of the facilities in Saskatoon.
    The Home Ice Campaign is so close to realizing its fundraising goal you could almost see yourself skating on the campus rink.
    It would likely cost the City of Saskatoon $6-million or more to add an ice pad to any of their existing rinks, so the investment in the new U of S facility would be a wise one.
    Unfortunately, the request for more funding will raise all sorts of political rhetoric. Those that want the new rink will point to the cost overruns of the Remai Modern Art Gallery noting the city would likely write a cheque if that project needed another $3-million or more.
    Others will say the money should be put into roads or other infrastructure.
    What all of that talk does is distract people away from the fact a new rink is needed on campus and for the city. A number of community leaders like Belsher have stepped up to really push the envelope to make a first rate facility a reality.
The Huskies women’s team celebrates a goal at the Rutherford Rink.
    If you think ice time for minor hockey in Saskatoon is tight now, imagine if Rutherford did get condemned forcing two elite level U Sports hockey teams to find times for their games and practices amongst the existing facilities in the city. That theoretical development would likely toast the campus recreation hockey program at the U of S for a time too.
    The reality of getting a new rink on campus has never been closer than it has been at this moment. It would be extremely sad if this opportunity slipped away.
    The twin-pad rink is needed. Whether the funds come from the city or possibly other donor, please find some way to get this done.

    If you have any comments you would like to pass along about this post, feel free to email them to It should be noted that I made a donation to the Home Ice Campaign. If you want to donate to the Home Ice Campaign, you can do so by clicking here.