Friday, 28 April 2017

New University of Saskatchewan rink finally becomes a reality

Ground-breaking ceremony held for Merlis Belsher Place

Dignitaries break ground at the site of Merlis Belsher Place.
    It was actually happening, and you were surprised it didn’t fall through.
    On Friday afternoon just south of the fieldhouse on the University of Saskatchewan campus, the ground breaking ceremony was held for Merlis Belsher Place, which will be the new twin-pad hockey rink facility that will replace the ancient Rutherford Rink. It is estimated the multi-sport complex will be open for the start of hockey season in October of 2018.
    One of the ice pads will be used by the Huskies men’s and women’s hockey teams for games and practices. The second rink will mainly be used by the Saskatoon Minor Hockey association, which will gain 1,500 additional hours of ice time per year.
    Two NBA-length practice gymnasiums, which are also part of the project, will be ready for the Huskies basketball teams in 2019.
Merlis Belsher hangs with a couple of young hockey players.
    While the benefits of the new facility are many, there was still doubt in the back of the mind that it was going to be a reality. Even on the drive to the campus for the ground-breaking ceremony, you almost thought something was going to happen to call everything off.
    Back in 1997, then Huskies athletic director Ross Wilson said he was actively pursuing a new rink for the U of S campus, and the Rutherford Rink needed to be replaced at that time. Since that time, the process to replace Rutherford has had many stops and starts. Those stops and starts provide ample justification for doubt.
    Upon arriving at the ground-breaking site, it was clear the new rink was really going to happen this time. Members of the Huskies men’s and women’s hockey teams were play street hockey with youngsters on a paved stretch of road beside the ground-breaking site.
    Many dignitaries were there including Fred Sasakamoose, who was the first First Nations player to play in the NHL, Saskatoon mayor Charlie Clark, U of S president Peter Stoicheff, Ken Cheveldayoff, who is the MLA for Saskatoon Silver Springs and Kelly Boes, who is the executive director of the Saskatoon Minor Hockey Association.
Members of the Huskies women’s hockey team took in the ground breaking.
    Merlis Belsher was also there and his leading gift and largest donation from an alumnus or individual in the university’s history of $12.25-million kick started the fundraising efforts for the facility. Thanks to Belsher’s donation and leadership, it was determined the new facility would be named after him.
    The list of dignitaries included Ron and Jane Graham, who have been long time supporters of the university and donated $4-million for the gymnasiums to be added to the facility last December.
    Beauty speeches were also given by Kohl Bauml, who is a star forward with the Huskies men’s hockey team, and Libby Epoch, who is the standout point-guard for the Huskies women’s basketball team.
Kohl Bauml, right, speaks to the dignitaries at the ground breaking.
    When you saw the gathering of many individuals from all walks of life, you realized that this was actually going to happen. The choreographed photo opportunity for the sod turning seemed surreal. For the gathering of just over 100 alums and stakeholders, there was pure joy in the moment.
    At this moment in time, everything finally fell into place to allow the new rink on campus to be built. The Huskies hockey teams will only have to play through one more season of “rust breaks” at the Rutherford Rink, which is approaching its 88th birthday, before finally skating in a state of the art new home.
    Some current and even former players at the gathering joked that Huskies men’s hockey head coach Dave Adolph often promised a new rink was coming when he recruited new players, and now that recruiting ploy would finally have some real staying power.
Mascot Howler meets the people at the ground-breaking ceremony.
    In total, the new facility will cost $42.9-million. Originally, the cost was pegged at $41-million, but the architectural plans for the main rink at Merlis Belsher Place have been enhanced to increase seating. The original plans called for 2,357 seats, while the new one allows for 3,437 seats creating the increased cost.
    The Home Ice Campaign to raise funds for the new facility was looking to hit a goal of $29-million. Currently, $28.4-million has been raised in the last year to meet the fundraising goal. That included a donation of $2.51-million from the Huskie hockey alumni in early April and the City of Saskatoon’s additional $3-million commitment in February.
Courtney Cormack (#16) plays street hockey with some youngsters.
    Home Ice Campaign chairs Dave King, who is a former legendary coach of the Huskies men’s hockey team, and Tim Hodgson, who is a men’s hockey alumnus, have to be given credit for bringing individuals of various backgrounds together to help make the new rink a reality. All the individuals that contributed to the effort to build this new facility should be applauded for their leadership and for seeing a vision of the future.
    Besides having a rink to benefit the Huskies, Saskatoon will now be able to hold national events like the Telus Cup midget AAA hockey championship, the Esso Cup female midget AAA hockey championship and the U Sports women’s hockey national championship tournament. The city had been without a mid-sized facility that could accommodate these events.
    A lot of wheels had to work together to make Merlis Belsher Place a reality. When its construction comes to a completion, it will leave a legacy to be enjoyed by generations for decades to come.

Bears make impact with Esso Cup trip

    The Prince Albert Northern Bears were already winners before they went to Esso Cup, and all one had to do was look at the Twitter account of defender Jordan Ashe to confirm that observation.
Jordan Ashe follows through on a shot for the Bears.
    During a fundraising and send off barbecue that was held for the team in Prince Albert before leaving for Morden, Man., Ashe, who turned 17 in March, posted a Tweet that a little girl came up to her and recognized her. The little girl said Ashe was her favourite Bear. Ashe posted a picture of the pair.
    That moment showed the power that the Bears playoff run had. In capturing their second Saskatchewan Female Midget AAA Hockey League championship and winning their first Western regional playdown series, little girls in Prince Albert and area saw what they could possibly do one day.
    In this particular case, this little girl saw a hero she could watch play in her own home city in Ashe, who is a tough stay-at-home defender that can chip in key points offensively.
The Bears had many memorable moments this season.
    During the post-season run, the Bears players will always remember the huge crowds they played in front of at the Art Hauser Centre when they swept the best-of-three Western regional playdown series against the Hartney, Man., based Westman Wildcats. An estimated crowd of 1,000 showed up for the Bears 6-4 win in Game 1 on March 31, and an estimated crowd of 1,200 watched the Bears 7-6 victory in Game 2 on April 2.
    On Thursday, the Bears closed play at Esso Cup downing the Sherbrooke, Que., based Harfangs du Triolet 3-2.
    Captain Brooke Hobson, Jadyn Kushniruk and Alli Soyko each had singles for the Bears. Brooklyn Elek turned away 28 shots to pick up the win in goal.
The Western regional win was a first for the Bears.
    Megan Bureau-Gagnon and Sandrine Veillette replied with singles for the Harfangs, while Melyann Daigneault turned away 36 shots to take the loss in goal.
    The Bears closed the round robin portion of the tournament with a 2-3 mark to finish fifth in the round robin standings and just miss qualifying for the playoff round.
    The Pickering, Ont., based Durham West Lightning finished fourth with a 2-3 mark, but they claimed the standings tiebreaker with the Bears posting a 5-1 win in a head-to-head match on Monday.
    The Harfangs won their semifinal game on Friday 2-1 over the host Pembina Valley Hawks and will face the Alberta based St. Albert Slash in Saturday’s championship game.
Camryn Amundson and the Lanchbery Family Trophy.
    The Bears had their most memorable campaign in team history which included posting a team record 22-6 mark in the regular season, and an 11-0 run through the SFMAAAHL playoffs and their regional series win.
    In the SFMAAAHL title series, they swept the Saskatoon Stars, who were the two-time defending league champions and had defeated the Bears in the 2015 league championship series.
    They graduate Hobson, Elek and forwards Ireland South and Sierra Parenteau, who all left big impacts on the team.
    On top of everything else, the Bears allowed little girls from Prince Albert and area to dream big dreams.

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