The University of Saskatchewan Huskies hockey program’s new home is ready.
Merlis Belsher Place opened to the public on Monday, showcasing a 2,487 seating-capacity spectator rink and separate community ice pad for minor hockey.
Media were taken on a tour of the facility along with Merlis Belsher, who kick-started the fundraising campaign for the arena with a $12.25 million gift.
“It’s spectacular,” Belsher told reporters. “I never envisioned what we’re seeing here today.”
The $51-million project started construction in April 2017 with an original opening date of January 2019.
Dean of Kinesiology Chad London said it took a great effort from the construction team to speed up to move-in day.
“It’s a testament to the team effort that came in with the planners, the architects and the construction,” he said.
Huskies players now have expanded dressing rooms — one each for men’s and women’s. Both are accompanied by a lounge area with a large screen television and kitchenette area.
The main dressing rooms lead directly to the Huskies bench at ice level, which was built to accommodate sledge hockey players with removable board ads that reveal plexiglass panels.
Fans will notice a large concourse leading to the seating areas, with a larger concession serving items such as bacon cheeseburgers, dry ribs and nachos. A video board has also been installed above centre ice, while a secondary score board hangs on the west end of the building.
There are also dedicated sections for wheelchair seating and media cameras — a significant change from the inaccessible and cramped Rutherford Rink.
And Belsher noted it’ll be warmer than the old barn.
“It’ll be inviting, and hopefully will bring lots of spectators,” he said.
The first hockey players to test the ice will be members of campus recreation teams in a series of games Monday evening.
The official first game will be played Friday, when the Huskies women’s hockey team takes on the University of Alberta.
Further “grand opening” celebrations will be held on October 26 and 27.
Rutherford Rink, which has served as the home of the Huskies since 1930, will shutter in November along with the university’s lone curling sheet.
Stars, Contacts to call Merlis Belsher Place home
Between the two ice sheets, 1,500 hours of ice time is being guaranteed for use by the Saskatoon Minor Hockey Association (SMHA).
Several teams will be holding practices at the new facility, while the AAA Stars and Contacts will play their home games at the rink.
Belsher said the inclusion of minor hockey was a key reason he invested in the arena, and he planned to be there on Tuesday morning to watch the first practices.
“I want to watch to see the reaction of players and the parents, to see what they think of the rink,” he said.