The women’s Huskies hockey team kicks off their season on Oct. 5 with a home game facing the University of Alberta Golden Bears. The game will also be the Huskies first at the new Merlis Belsher Place, with the men’s team having their home opener later on Oct. 12.
The arena, which cost a whopping $51 million, will replace the Rutherford Rink, originally built in 1929. The new facility is named after its largest donor, Merlis Belsher, who contributed $12.25 million to its construction.
Although it was originally planned to open in January of 2019, the stadium was finished ahead of time and has been in use for practice and recreational teams for some time now. The stadium facilities contain two ice surfaces — one for practices and recreational use and a larger one with seating for up to 2,487 for bigger games and events.
Steve Kook, head coach of the women’s hockey team, talks about his first impressions of the new stadium and the excitement he feels for the public.
“It’s bright — the colours are vivid. You can tell its a Huskies rink just when you walk in,” Kook said. “You notice the how everything is clean and crisp, the colours pop, even the centre score clock is outstanding. I was a little bit awestruck by that. This isn’t just a rink — it belongs here.”
Steve also speaks to the stadium’s new facilities, with an area for athletes and training.
“What stands out most to me is the space that we have for athletes to prepare and recover — medical space, private, away from [the] dressing room. It’s very important for us to recover in our sport… I think, if it’s possible, the public should try and find a way to tour down here to see what athletes need and do at an elite level,” Kook said.
Rachel Lundberg, fourth-year player for the team, is excited for the new facility as she believes it will be a space where all athletes can come together.
“I think it’s cool how it’s gonna bring together different sports — I think it’ll be a good place for Huskie athletes to interact with each other. And even the kids — it’s a great space for the community to come together and celebrate sport at any level,” Lundberg said.
Despite their excitement, both players and coaches have good memories from the old stadium. For Kook, those memories include winning the 2004 Canada West championship. But most of all, it was the overall atmosphere that Steve cites as important to him in memory.
“I remember coming out from beneath the coaches’ area 45 [minutes] before the game, and the place was sold out. So it was that atmosphere and that environment that we’ll miss… We’ll miss how it feels — how close the fans were to the actions. You really shared the game with the fans,” Kook said.
As for the future, the team will focus on their ever-present goal: winning the national championship. Both player and coach look forward to playing last year’s champion, the University of Manitoba, which Lundberg elaborates on.
“University of Manitoba is always a big competitor — especially since we lost to them last year. I think everyone is hoping for a challenge and for us to get redemption,” Lundberg said.
For Kook and the team, the new stadium is an improved space, allowing them to focus on the athletes’ needs for peak performance, as well as an exciting move for fans. Although moving on from the old stadium is bittersweet for players and fans alike, Kook says that he’s looking forward to making new memories in the new stadium.
“I don’t how or when they’re gonna happen, but they’re gonna happen. I’m just looking forward to getting started. I think opening night will be the most memorable for us — the first of many memories — win or lose.”
Photo: Heywood Yu