For those that have ever attended a hockey game at the University of Saskatchewan’s Rutherford Rink, they will agree that it’s time for an upgrade.
That being said, it’s a complicated matter that has been discussed for years and it comes down to the financial aspect of building a brand new hockey arena. It was announced in the spring of 2014 that the university would look to private donors to help fund the cost of such a project, but so far nothing further has been announced.
In an interview in March 2014 with CBC, Huskie Athletics director Basil Hughton said they have been looking into getting a new rink for almost a decade.
“I facetiously always say, ‘It’s going to happen on a Monday,’” Hughton said. “I’m not sure which Monday.”
He also made it clear that the university will not pay for the arena.
“Very clearly they’re [plans of a new rink] going to exist with the combination with the private sector or with donor dollars,” Hughton said. “It’s not going to be with university funding.”
“The Rink” — as it was originally called — was built in 1929 as a home for the Huskie hockey teams and still houses the men’s and women’s home games and practices. The cost in 1929 to build the rink was estimated at around $50,000. In 1930 the name was changed to Rutherford Rink in honour of W.J. Rutherford, the university’s first dean of the College of Agriculture.
For those who have never been inside Rutherford Rink, the need for an upgrade is evident. Small sections of bleachers, accompanied by support pillars blocking your view, make it very difficult to watch a game comfortably. The poorly designed bleachers are only on one side of the ice with standing room behind them as well as behind both nets. Capacity is set at a mere 700.
Nearly everything about Rutherford Rink is small and out of date. The dressing rooms barely fit a 10-person campus rec team, never mind a CIS team with 20 players — the men’s hockey team has a roster of 25. The press boxes, which are cramped, also don’t offer the best view of the game.
On top of all of that, anytime a puck hits the roof or rafters, pieces of rust come falling down on to the ice, halting play and causing a lengthy delay upwards of 10 minutes.
In comparison, the next oldest rink in the Canada West conference is the Clare Drake Arena in Edmonton. Used by the University of Alberta Golden Bears, the arena opened in 1959 and holds roughly 3,000 people. The newest rink belongs to the University of British Columbia Thunderbirds in Vancouver. Coming in at $48 million, the Doug Mitchell Thunderbird Sports Centre opened in 2008 and was a host to the 2010 Olympic winter games. The centre has three rinks with the Thunderbird Arena alone accomodating over 7,000 people for special events.
With this being Rutherford RInk’s 85th season, it’s growing more and more clear that a change is necessary.
Although a plan for a new rink has been put in place, right now it is listed as an “emerging project”, which means the it has been considered but not yet submitted to the Board of Governors for information and preliminary approval.
The new development would potentially be located in the North East precinct of College Quarter, alongside Griffiths Stadium at PotashCorp Park, the Stadium Parkade and the Saskatoon Field House. The plan is for a twin-pad arena as well as an athletic field complex with hopes of it becoming a center of excellence for athletics and recreation at the U of S. The North East precinct will also include opportunities for commercial office space, a hotel and retail development at the intersection of Preston Avenue North and College Drive. The rink is estimated to cost about $30 million and would require a combination of fundraising and private donations.
In July 2014, the U of S received a handful of business proposals from outside companies with the agreement of developing a rink on university land in College Quarter. The plan prioritized use for Huskie Athletics, but indicated that community usage would also be available for rent. In the end, two of the proposals rose above the others and just recently, in January, one of the bids finalized their information.
“We’re now evaluating to see if we have a plan that would actually be financially feasible that we could take to the board. Basically, we’re still evaluating but we’re close to determining if it’s feasible or not,” said James Cook, manager of business opportunities at the university’s corporate administration.
Although the process is moving along, a timeline remains to be set for the decision to be made and for construction to begin.
“It will be a few more months before we can get everything taken through the process that we need to use. If we can get a feasible plan for the financing of it [the rink], then we could say, ‘OK, we know how we’re doing this, here’s how long it’s going to take.’ But we don’t have that timetable in place yet.”
Head coach Steve Kook has been at the helm of the Huskie women’s hockey team for 10 seasons and is supportive of the idea of a new rink.
“In my opinion, our rink hurts us. We train on a small, tiny ice surface and then we hit the road and play on ice surfaces that are way bigger than ours. It’s like a wrestler training in a 4×4 ring and then going to fight in a 16×16 ring,” Kook said.
Although Rutherford Rink is small and other teams across the country have much newer facilities, Kook does enjoy the intimacy and homeliness of the building.
“Don’t get me wrong, I wish we could take what we have here and put it into a new rink. What we have here that I have not seen anywhere in the country except for one place, is it has a true college and university feel,” he said. “You walk in the barn and you know it’s our rink. The colours are green and white, the banners are up on the wall, we don’t share it with anybody else. We know it’s ours. So if we can take the culture and the atmosphere and how it feels in here and put it in a new rink, I would love that. We just need more space.”
While admitting that Rutherford Rink does have some positive attributes, second-year forward Kennedy Harris cited a range of issues that plague the facility. Ultimately, she is also in favour of a new rink.
“Everyone hates playing here [but] the atmosphere is tough to beat when the rink is packed. It’s frustrating that we have no place to warm up before games and if you hit the rafters with a puck, rust falls down. We have had many occasions where practice has been cancelled because the ice conditions are brutal,” Harris wrote to the Sheaf. “A new [rink] would be nice not only for us, but the fans as well. It would be nice to have a dressing room that isn’t just a trailer attached to a building. Lots of things would be better with a new facility and I think it would benefit the community as well.”
The Huskie “dressing room” that both the men’s and women’s teams use is embarrassing by all standards. You can walk into any other rink in the province and see more sufficient locker rooms. The cramped room is suppose to be a comfortable area for players where they can finish warm ups, stretch and meet before and after their ice times.
There’s really no way around it, Rutherford Rink’s expiration date has long since passed as Dave Adolph, the men’s hockey head coach, eloquently said in an interview with CBC.
“Time’s up,” Adolph said. “That’s how I would describe Rutherford. It’s served its purpose.”
However, there are questions still to be raised.
In 2005, PotashCorp donated $5 million to upgrade Griffiths Stadium in PotashCorp Park in time for the Huskies to host the 2006 Vanier Cup. Surely there has to be a company who would love their name on a brand new hockey arena. Then again in 2010, a $3-million donation from Ron and Jane Graham allowed Huskie football to drastically improve their clubhouse, whereas the hockey Dogs don’t even have a real dressing room.
The City of Saskatoon could surely chip in as there has been a desperate shortage of ice time in the city for minor and adult hockey leagues. However, they too aren’t willing to put forth any money for a university project.
So the bottom line is ultimately this: All parties involved are salivating at the thought of a brand new rink where rust will —hopefully — never stop a game again. Proposals are on the table, but nothing has been determined yet and there is no guarantee either of the business plans will be financially possible. All things considered, it will still be a few years before the Huskies finally have a new home.
Photos: University Archives