Saskatchewan Huskies look for new home ice as arena identified as possible COVID-19 field hospital

With Merlis Belsher Place filling in as a possible coronavirus field hospital, the Saskatchewan Huskies are looking to sub in other rinks if next hockey season comes to fruition. Ryan Flaherty / Global News

The Saskatchewan Huskies are on the prowl for new home ice, as their usual venue has been selected as the site of a possible field hospital amid the novel coronavirus pandemic.

In mid-April, the Saskatchewan Health Authority chose Merlis Belsher Place as a possible location to treat COVID-19 patients if needed.

The 120,000-square-foot complex on the University of Saskatchewan campus has been home to the Huskies men’s and women’s hockey teams since 2018.

Chief athletics officer for Huskie Athletics Dave Hardy said that although competitive programming for the 2020-21 U Sports season is up in the air due to the pandemic, his team is still planning for it.

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“Our first order of business was to secure practice ice… we’ve entered into discussion with the City of Saskatoon who we’re very close to finalizing an agreement where we would have practice ice for our Huskies men’s and women’s teams,” Hardy said on Tuesday.

“We’re not going to interfere with Saskatoon Minor Hockey Association. In fact, we’re taking ice that was previously unused. We’re kind of able to do that because of the remote delivery and the flexibility that our student-athletes would have.”

Besides SaskTel Centre, Hardy said his team has also reached out to a number of outlying communities as possible sites to host games.

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“We think, in many respects, we’ll turn this into a great opportunity to travel a little bit throughout the province and to host great Huskie hockey. Certainly, Prince Albert, where we have a satellite campus there, and in other areas around the province: Humboldt, North Battleford, areas that are hockey hotbeds,” he said.

“Every community that we’ve reached out to with the possibility of hosting a Huskie hockey weekend has been very, very receptive.”

Hardy added: “Eighty or 90 per cent of our Huskie hockey players, both men and women, are Saskatchewan-born people, and so we’ll try and build on that… I think it’s a great opportunity for us to showcase Huskie hockey throughout the province.”

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The former home of Huskies hockey, Rutherford Arena, has been decommissioned and isn’t an option.

“I think as soon as the university has the money to do that, we’ll (demolish Rutherford Arena). Probably 20 years or 40 years too late… The ice plant is gone, the boards, everything’s gone. It’s just a shell. It’s not salvageable,” Hardy said.

With much uncertainty about next season, Hardy said his team is still actively recruiting players and trying to put together teams in case the puck drops.

“All competitive programing in U Sports and in Canada West is still like everything else in this pandemic — a little bit up in the air. Our season is, best-case scenario, planned to begin in November… with a 20-game schedule,” he said.

“We’re all at the mercy of the virus… but I think in terms of what Canada West is planning, in terms of scheduling, we would be able to begin training camp in the middle of September.”

Questions about COVID-19? Here are some things you need to know:

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