SPORTS

International rink hoped to be a money-maker for new Canadian Sport Institute

09/14/2011 05:59 EDT | Updated 01/12/2012 02:19 EST
CALGARY - Bobbi Jo Slusar was among the first hockey players to skate on Calgary's new international-sized rink at Canada Olympic Park.

The Canadian women's hockey team defenceman imagined a future where everything she needed to win an Olympic gold medal was just steps away at Canada's first sport institute.

"It felt like home already to me," said the 26-year-old from Swift Current, Sask.

The 3,500-seat arena will be a training and competition venue for Hockey Canada, which will move its headquarters next month from Father David Bauer Arena near the University of Calgary to an office tower at COP next to the rink.

The World Sledge Hockey Challenge in November is expected to be the first international event in the arena. The Canadian junior men's hockey team will hold its selection camp there in December.

The international ice surface is another piece of the puzzle of the $220-million Canadian Sport Institute at COP. When completed, the institute will be a one-stop shop for Canada's Olympic athletes and will resemble the U.S. Olympic Training Centre in Colorado Springs, Colo., and the Australian Institute of Sport in Canberra.

Canada has seven sports centres across the country. The centres administrate programs and services for athletes, but don't provide a physical space for them that combines competition, training, medical services and sport science.

The Olympic rink unveiled Wednesday will also play an important money-making role for the institute. A fundraising campaign selling naming rights on 3,000 seats would pay for the final piece of the institute -- a high performance training centre. The training centre's exterior is complete, but the guts have yet to be installed.

The institute will have common areas where the public can rub shoulders with the Olympians. Allowing recreational athletes to use the high-performance centre will help pay for the institute's operations. The Olympic arena will also run recreational hockey leagues there.

The first phase of the sport institute was three NHL-sized arenas, which have been in use by hockey and figure skating groups since they opened last December.

WinSport Canada president Dan O'Neill says if the "Please Take Your Seat" campaign is successful, it could raise the $15 million required to complete and equip the high-performance centre. WinSport Canada, formerly the Calgary Olympic Development Association, oversees the legacy from the 1988 Olympics.

For $5,000, companies or individuals get their name inscribed on a plaque atop a seat rest for a five-year term. They also get first right of refusal on a tickets sold for events there. Former Canadian women's hockey team captain Cassie Campbell-Pascal says she has already paid for names on two seats.

"We've gone out and asked the big sponsors to contribute already (to the institute) and for a lot of people that's a little too rich for them," O'Neill said. "It's still a lot of money, I understand that at $5,000 per seat, but it broadens our market to let other people contribute."

The 3,500 seats was deemed to be the most cost-effective number because the arena will host smaller events and its tenants won't regularly draw more spectators than that, O'Neill explained.

The four arenas, the office tower that also houses the National Sport School, and the new high-performance centre will work in concert with the existing facilities built before and after the 1988 Olympic Games. COP is the home of the national bobsleigh, skeleton, luge and ski jump teams as well as provincial ski and snowboard teams.

The four rinks will serve as the staging and practice facilities for teams participating in the 2012 world junior hockey championship in Calgary and Edmonton. Each country will have its own dressing room at the Olympic arena.

Hockey Canada president Bob Nicholson says the rink has the capacity to host national hockey tournaments as well as lower-level international events such as the world women's under-18 championship and world Junior A hockey challenge.

"The facilities will be much better for the athletes, which our athletes deserve in the game of hockey," Nicholson said. "One of the other keys is we're going to be around other sports.

"Our coaches are going to be around coaches from other sports, same as the top administrators, and we'll be able to share a lot of great ideas."

Slusar will play this winter for the new Alberta entry in the Canadian Women's Hockey League. The international arena will be the Calgary base of the team that will also play games in Edmonton.

The women's team held its first tryouts in the arena last weekend. Slusar is thrilled the team will start out with a home rink, a dressing room, preferential treatment when it comes to practice times and, hopefully soon, a place for dryland training.

Slusar has those elements when she plays for the Canadian team, but they can be luxuries for womens' club teams.

"A nice washroom facility, big showers, a room for a trainer and I think around the corner there's a coach's room and possibly a doctor, they're going to have everything set up right where we need it," Slusar said. "For those resources to be accessible to us right away, it's the best thing you can ask for."

The "Please Take Your Seat" campaign runs until Dec. 15 at www.winsportcanada.ca/takeyourseat.

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