Anticipation is building for Merlis Belsher Place as construction nears completion.
In October 2016, Merlis Belsher made a $12.25 million donation to help build of a new arena at the University of Saskatchewan, and in the fall of 2018, the Huskies hockey program will have a new place to call home.
The facility will be a massive upgrade from Rutherford Rink, as the team’s home arena will move from an attendance capacity of 700 to 2,614 — and eventually, to 3,546 once phase two of the construction is complete.
Built in 1929, Rutherford Rink has played host to a lot of hockey over the years, but many people understood that a new arena was desperately needed on campus. After a media tour of the new facility on Feb. 6, U of S President Peter Stoicheff acknowledges that the project required backing from donors.
“We’ve been imagining having to replace Rutherford for decades, and for one reason or another, we weren’t really certain we could pull it off. But, with the support of Merlis, with the support of the city and so many other alumni and those engaged with our athletic programs, it was made possible,” Stoicheff said.
Belsher, whose donation stands as the largest single donation from an individual in school history, was humbled during the tour of the building, which is shaping up right in front of his very eyes.
“I’m overwhelmed, actually. It’s great,” Belsher said.
Throughout the building process, Belsher has emphasized that the facility should not only be functional but also beautifully designed, as Stoicheff explains.
“Merlis understands construction, and he understands aesthetics. He was always adamant that this building had to look beautiful from the outside, and when you moved into it, you felt like this was a space that you belonged in and wanted to be in,” Stoicheff said.
Although the primary use of the facility will be for Huskies hockey, a second ice surface is also being built for Saskatoon Minor Hockey, which will provide the city with a much-needed new rink. The ice will also be the new home for Campus Recreation hockey at the university.
In addition, the ice pads will be adaptable for para ice hockey, and Tourism Saskatoon is in the midst of submitting a bid for an upcoming national championship to be played at the new facility.
The Huskies basketball and soccer teams will also benefit from the new facility, as it will house two NBA-sized courts, allowing the Huskies basketball teams to continue practicing on campus in December, when they would normally be booted from the Physical Activity Complex and unable to practice during final-exam season.
The men’s and women’s hockey, basketball and soccer teams will also gain dedicated locker rooms at the facility. Huskies hockey players Kohl Bauml from the men’s team and Brooklyn Haubrich from the women’s team were on-hand after the tour, and both were taken aback by the marvellous new facility.
“Seeing it first-hand makes it a reality. You see pictures, but once you see it with your own eyes, it’s amazing. I’m kind of blown away right now, for sure. Playing in front of a home crowd in this rink is going to be fun. I’m excited. It’s going to be electric in here,” Haubrich said.
Bauml mentions the buzz he has already felt in the community regarding the new arena.
“The amount of people that have been talking about wanting to come to games because of the new rink, the number of fans that are going to be here, the atmosphere — like Brooklyn was saying, it’s going to be electric. It’s going to be awesome to see, and we’re going to have a lot of fun playing in this new rink in front of Huskies supporters and Saskatoon in general.”
Photo: Gabbie Torres