The University of Saskatchewan Huskies hockey programs may not have to play another game in Rutherford Rink.
Huskies Athletics has told 650 CKOM they “expect” the brand new Merlis Belsher Place to be ready in time for the women’s hockey home opener on Oct. 5 against the University of Alberta.
“Things are progressing really well with the construction,” said Chief Athletics Officer Shawn Burt.
The $43.9 million project wasn’t expected to open its doors until near Halloween, with Huskies hockey planning to move in for the second semester in January 2019.
However, Burt said the organization is becoming more confident the two ice sheets will be ready in time for hockey season.
“Obviously with construction things can move here or there,” he said, noting officials are having regular meetings with the construction crews.
“We are all very focused and hopeful that we could hit the ground running in early October for the Huskies men’s and women’s team.”
The official opening date for the facility hasn’t been set, but the university is hoping to hold some “Huskie-driven test events” before the Huskies move in.
The new arena project was announced in October 2016 as a replacement to the ageing Rutherford Rink, which opened in 1929 and has served as the home of the Huskies since.
Merlis Belsher Place broke ground in April 2017.
At opening, the facility is expected to seat 2,614 people around the main ice surface, with plans to expand to 3,546 at a later time.
Burt said a video scoreboard is being installed at centre ice, bringing the fan engagement closer to that of a Western Hockey League game.
“We’ve hired additional staff with professional sports and major junior experience to help us deliver an experience people would expect in a facility of this nature,” he said.
A second ice pad has also been installed to host Saskatoon Minor Hockey Association games, with a commitment to provide 1,200 hours of ice time to youth hockey players.
In addition, the arena will house training courts for the university’s basketball teams and change rooms for the soccer teams.
A state-of-the-art injury treatment and research facility will be included as well.
Merlis Belsher Place reached the 60 per cent completion mark in May, with media having the opportunity to photograph the progress of the building.
Burt, like many others, is excited to throw the doors open.
“The sooner the better,” he said.