As the fall semester gets underway, the majority of MacEwan’s sports teams will resume business as usual and begin their 2016 seasons. However, this time around, the women’s and men’s Griffins hockey teams will play in a brand new venue: the Downtown Community Arena.
The arena is situated in downtown Edmonton on 102 Street and 105 Avenue, just a few blocks from MacEwan’s City Centre Campus.
It will also serve as the practice rink for the Edmonton Oilers and the Edmonton Oil Kings, meaning the Griffins hockey teams will skate on the same ice as their professional counterparts. The high-profile location has excited many people on campus, from faculty higher-ups to the hockey players who will actually get to make use of the rink.
Previously, the women’s and men’s hockey teams would play their home matches at Confederation Arena and Bill Hunter Arena, respectively. The locations of those arenas, according to MacEwan athletics director Ken Schildroth, caused a “friction of distance from our campus.” Schildroth also noted that a large motivation for grabbing a spot at the rink is derived from a desire for “something that would allow our student athletes access to a high-quality facility.”
With less time allocated to travelling across the city, the players can dedicate more time to their studies.
“It definitely makes it easier for students to come, so we’re hoping that these students get engaged with that,” Bram Stephen said. Stephen is the head coach of the men’s hockey team.
“It gives them the opportunity to take an LRT right to the rink.”
Given the local hype generated by its impending grand opening, the new arena is also sure to be a big draw for the fans to attend Griffins games, considering how close the arena is to the main campus.
Now that the arena is that much closer, the chance to provide opportunities for greater fan engagement will only increase. Stephen said that with the arena being next door, students are more likely to attend Griffins games.
“If you’re a student you know there’s a game on … hopefully for them it’s a reliable thing and they’ll come because of that.”
Perks of MacEwan’s contribution
In terms of cost, MacEwan President David Atkinson explained the price to pay wasn’t exactly cheap. “Our initial commitment was for $2 million, and then the building ran over, and we had to add some things that if we ever were to move into Canada West … would be a requirement,” he said.
The amount contributed by the university, as it stands, is $3.5 million, according to Atkinson.
By Canada West, Atkinson is referring to the goal of eventually bringing the men’s and women’s hockey teams from their current league, The Alberta Colleges Athletic Conference (ACAC), over to the Canadian Interuniversity Sport league (CIS). A large reason for this desire to change leagues is that the ACAC houses college sports teams, whereas the CIS is for university teams, a more fitting place, given MacEwan’s relatively new transition into a university.
One question worth asking, then, is what perks MacEwan will receive for its sizeable contribution to the construction efforts. Atkinson explained that these advantages will amount mostly to preferential treatment. “What they’re giving the ice to us for is a discounted rate, that we would pay if we were in any community rink in the city,” he said.
Bringing our teams together
The arena is also another step in the direction of consolidating MacEwan’s athletics’ presence within the downtown campus.
“I think that’s the long-term goal. To have hockey, now, not on campus, but right next to campus,” Stephen said. “Other programs … can see everything that’s going on downtown, and that includes the court sports of our MacEwan Griffins as well, and that can only help the image of the university and the teams within it.”
In addition to grabbing a spot closer to the school, the men’s and women’s teams will also come closer as teams and individuals, due to the fact that the rink will be used by both teams.
“I think the players on the two teams get along really well,” Stephen says. “You can see there’s a camaraderie there … For coaches, it’s easier to share ideas, which has its own tangible benefits as well, so we’re pretty excited about that.”
It has been confirmed by both Atkinson and Stephen that the Griffins will have their own exclusive change rooms with additional storage space as well. Stephen believes the new features are “something (the teams) can take pride in.”
And with some of the newest facilities in the country, the Griffins are in a league of their own. “Certainly for hockey players my experience has been that facilities are everything,” Atkinson said.
“There’s not (another) school in Canada that has a home rink like that. Not a chance.”
Cover photo by Alex Allan.