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Merlis Belsher Place groundbreaking ceremony held at University of Saskatchewan

WATCH ABOVE: A little rain couldn't dampen spirits one bit as shovels hit the ground for the first time at the future site of Merlis Belsher Place. Ryan Flaherty reports.

It’s been seven months since an unprecedented donation by University of Saskatchewan (U of S) alumnus Merlis Belsher set the wheels in motion for a long-overdue replacement for 88-year-old Rutherford Rink.

On Friday, it officially became a reality with a groundbreaking ceremony for the $43-million facility in Saskatoon.

“It just seems like a dream, it just happened so fast. It’s only 28 weeks ago since the announcement but everything came together, a lot of cooperation,” Belsher said.

READ MORE: Saskatoon city council sets property tax, maintains U of S rink funding

There was a time when it seemed the U of S might never open a new hockey rink. That all changed last fall when Belsher’s $12.25-million donation kickstarted a whirlwind fundraising drive that culminated in Friday’s ceremony.

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“All of the different hockey alumni and alumni beyond hockey alumni, they really joined together. I mean they raised more money as an alumni for this project than for any project in the university’s history that I’m aware of anyway,” U of S president Peter Stoicheff said.

“We couldn’t be more grateful to everyone involved, from the donors to the volunteers to whoever. We just are very, very thankful, and it’s happening so we’re excited,” Huskies hockey player Kohl Bauml said.

In addition to housing the Saskatchewan Huskies hockey teams, the future site of Merlis Belsher Place will feature dedicated practice space for basketball and locker rooms for the soccer squads.

READ MORE: Saskatchewan Huskies 2017 football schedule set for kick off

The facility will also be used by the Saskatoon Minor Hockey Association, which has faced an ice shortage for several years. That partnership between the university and the community was key to making the project a reality.

“The university could not have done this on its own. It could not have done this even just with the formidable fundraising and volunteering that all of its alumni did. I’m proud of the fact that it’s been able to work with the city,” Stoicheff said.

“This is about hockey, but it’s also, as noted, it’s about basketball, it’s about volleyball, it’ll be about ringette, figure skating and about the chance to have community events right here in Saskatoon,” Mayor Charlie Clark said.

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Construction will begin in the coming days with the twin-ice facility expected to open in October 2018. The rest of the complex will be complete the following year.