Even after hundreds of touch ups and layers of paint, the old barn is just that — old.
For the people who’ve frequented Rutherford Rink for almost nine decades, it’s the details that make the building’s personality.
There’s the low-hanging scattered with rusty steel beams, complemented by rock-solid seating consisting of backless benches bolted down to the concrete stands.
A sound system that crackles and fades for barely audible announcements, while an unfinished bare sub-floor with an antique rug pathway guides esteemed patrons tomakeshift luxury boxes.
The next generation won’t be playing in the frozen historic home of the Huskies.
“They’re missing out on a building that actually started in 1929, opened in 1930, and they called it an ice drome in those days,” said historian P.J. Kennedy. “You can see the construction of it. The wood, the steel beams, the posts — it’s an old-school arena.”
Kennedy has the distinction of being the lone Huskies’ hockey historian. He even teaches an English class at the University of Saskatchewan about hockey poetry.
In 2006, he published Dogs on Ice: A Hockey History at University of Saskatchewan. The book lays out more than 100 years of hockey at U of S.
On the day the Huskies played their final game in the old arena, Kennedy was bundled in four layers of clothing, a toque and parka as he chatted with fellow fans between periods as he does during most games.
Built for an original price tag of $47,000, Rutherford became the first major recreational facility on campus.
It was altered to be a drill hall for the Canadian Officers Training Corps during parts of the Second World War, in addition to the many major renovations undertaken since then.
“For people that have never had the chance to grow up in small-town Saskatchewan or small-town Canada anywhere, they might not get the same feel in a new building,” Kennedy said.
“The feel of the building, the history, the tradition is something that I’m certainly proud to have been a part of.”
A rink for the people
Don Gibson has been a fan of the Huskies since the 70s. He has rarely missed a game since then and can usually be found perched against the northern-most steel beam in the stands, one of the many that block sight lines in the rink.
Regardless of the storied rink, Gibson comes each and every weekend for the hockey.
“It’s the best-kept secret in hockey in Saskatoon. When it’s full, it’s a fun, ruckus place to be” he said.
It’s one of those arenas that redefines the meaning of full or at-capacity. The closeness of the building is something that won’t be duplicated with modern arenas.
“You can’t help but run into people as you’re walking. It isn’t a wide concourse, as in many of the modern buildings. You visit with people. It becomes a social place, as well as hockey,” Kennedy said.
Gibson was always quick to warn fans how warm to dress to take in a game at Rutherford. Now, like many others, he is welcoming the new arena with open arms.
“I’m not going to miss the rink, I can honestly tell you that,” he said. “I don’t have to take any memories with me from here, that’s for sure.”
As with any monumental change or advancement, the closing of Rutherford Rink might not be what the teams are leaving behind, but what they’re taking with them.
“The fans here know hockey, they know when to cheer,” Kennedy said. “They don’t need big scoreboards to tell them when to cheer. People respond to the hockey, that’s what I like about it. It’s more pure hockey. It’s more the tradition of hockey.”
“I hope it’s carried over to the new rink because I think that’s part of it.”
Unlike Kennedy, first-time fans might walk Rutherford in disgust, unaware of the history.
Or watch in amazement during the infamous “rust delays” as the shovel crew comes out to clear rust shavings scattered on the ice after a puck struck the low-hanging girders. They might leave the dimly-lit arena confused, disappointed or chilled to the bone.
But many other long-time fans leave remembering fantastic hockey games in a building steeped in tradition and history, which the Huskies will hopefully carry on to a new chapter of the program.
After all, Kennedy knows Merlis Belsher Place will only mean great things for the future of the Huskies.
“University hockey is just great hockey and I think the more people who can experience it, the better,” he said. “Therefore the new rink will allow more people to experience it.”