University of Saskatchewan launches final funding drive for new hockey facility

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WATCH ABOVE: After years of false starts, plans for a new arena at the University of Saskatchewan are finally becoming a reality. As Ryan Flaherty reports, its thanks in part to one of the largest donations in school history – Oct 14, 2016

At 87 years young, Rutherford Rink is the second-oldest hockey arena in the CIS. Several plans to replace the home of the University of Saskatchewan (U of S) Huskies have come and gone over the years only to die on the vine.

But on Thursday, the latest plan became much more than a pipe dream as the university launched the last phase of a fundraising drive for a new facility, meaning Rutherford’s days are officially numbered.

READ MORE: Saskatoon city council backs new arena, increases taxi fees

With $34 million in funds already secured, the Home Ice campaign is targeting public and community donors for the remaining $7 million needed to build a new arena complex on campus.

“For a long time now we’ve been quietly raising money, hoping we would get to exactly this point but needing to know that we could, and we did,” university president Peter Stoicheff said.

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While a new rink on campus is long overdue, it wasn’t until U of S alumnus Merlis Belsher donated $12.25 million to the cause that the latest project really came to life.

“I follow hockey, follow sports, and I was well aware over the years of the state of Rutherford. So when I was contacted I listened very carefully,” said Belsher, the former owner of Weldon’s Concrete Products and who was raised on a farm near McCord, Sask. Belsher’s donation is the largest gift from an alumnus and individual in the university’s history.

READ MORE: University of Saskatchewan looking to private sector for new ice rink

The proposed $41-million facility, which will be known as Merlis Belsher Place, will be built on university land south of the Field House and adjacent to PotashCorp Park, where the Huskies football and soccer teams play. It will feature two ice sheets and all the modern amenities that are missing at Rutherford.

“The biggest thing I think is warming up before a game. You can’t really warm up in a place like this. There’s no room. So having like a gym there and all that, that’s huge for us,” said Kaitlin Willoughby, a forward on the women’s hockey squad.

“The dressing room’s pretty tight, so to have those luxuries makes it easier on us and makes our jobs as student-athletes even easier,” added men’s team captain, Kendall McFaull.

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The Saskatoon Minor Hockey Association (SMHA) will also benefit, with the new rink providing much-needed relief in a city running short on available ice.

“The last sheet of ice that was added to our inventory in the city was the second rink at Rod Hamm-Harold Latrace (arena) in 1998,” SMHA executive director Kelly Boes told the crowd at Thursday’s launch.

The university hopes to raise the final $7 million needed for the project in the coming months. Once the funds are secured, construction will begin. From start to finish it’s estimated the arena will take approximately one year to complete.

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