Hockey enthusiasts in southeast Vancouver are facing a shortage of ice despite the construction of two new rink facilities in preparation of the 2010 Olympic Games.
From January 15, the newly built rink at Killarney will be used solely for the Olympics. It will host short track speed skating training sessions throughout the Games, resulting in hockey players, and other user groups looking elsewhere for ice time.
At a recent public skate at Killarney, Sean Reilly and a handful of parents and hockey players took to the ice among leisure skaters, squeezing in some extra time on the ice.
Because of upcoming closures at Killarney, Trout Lake, Britannia and the Agrodome, many of east Vancouver’s 34 teams have been short on practise time.
“I had originally thought that we would end up with more rinks in Vancouver as a result of (the Olympics),” said Reilly, while strapping on his goalie pads.
“We’ve certainly ended up with nicer facilities, but we haven’t ended up with more of them. And that’s unfortunate.”
To pay for the new $14.9 million-dollar-rink at Killarney, the Vancouver Park Board contributed $12.2 million, VANOC invested $2.5 million and the Killarney Community Centre Society put up $175,000.
The price tag for the Trout Lake facility came in at over $15.9 million, with the Park Board paying the majority of the construction costs of $13.2 million. VANOC contributed $2.5 million and the Grandview Community Association invested $250,000.
On this Tuesday night, the foyer was full of people lacing skates and slapping on used helmets; one father awkwardly pulled at his daughter’s skate laces with his teeth. A woman at the concession stand prepared hot dogs while the sound of grinding metal drifted out of the skate-sharpening kiosk drowning out the evening chatter.
While the Zamboni made its final pass on the last tract of chewed-up ice, a few older freshly showered hockey players lugged their stinky hockey bags through the foyer. Images of lugers, skaters, skiers and hockey players decorate the walls of Killarney marking the rink as an Olympic venue.
“Most of our games in January and February are either against our own association or teams from the Thunderbirds,” said Reilly. “And neither association has any ice in January or February so we’re having to use all of our available ice time to play games and there is virtually no practice ice.”
Vancouver public ice
Of the eight community ice rinks in Vancouver, four of those are located in the southeast corner of the city – Killarney, Trout Lake, Riley Park and Sunset.
Only Sunset will remain unaffected by the Olympic closures, with the rinks at Killarney and Trout Lake closing entirely from mid January until some point in the summer of 2010 after retrofitting.
View Vancouver Community Ice Rinks in a larger map
The official facing the challenge of allocating ice throughout the closures is Bruce MacWilliam, district coordinator for the Vancouver Park Board. He recognizes that it’s difficult to please everyone, but he considers VANOC’s participation at local rinks to be a worthwhile tradeoff.
“So far, I think they’ve been quite resourceful,” said MacWilliam, referring to the hockey associations. “Will they have challenges? Yeah, for sure, but come next year we’ll have two brand new facilities.”
More than just hockey
President of the Killarney Community Centre Society, Keith Jacobson, acknowledges that user groups like minor hockey will bear the brunt of the closures, but his job is to provide services to all members of the community centre.
Jacobson works as an advocate for local residents who use the building and its programs. Jacobson believes that maintaining adequate programming is a priority whether the Olympics are here or not. The job will be tougher this winter when Jacobson loses three of his four staff programmers to VANOC.
Residents can still use Killarney’s other facilities throughout the Olympics, but Jacobson said that they shouldn’t expect new programming until the spring.
Rochelle Wallace, President of Vancouver Minor Hockey, favours the new rinks but believes that the Olympic closures reveal a larger issue.
“The big thing is that people do not recognize that we, and other ice user groups, are already short of ice and that we need more to run viable programs,” said Wallace.
To combat the loss of time in Vancouver, Wallace said the association rented ice in North Vancouver, Langley, and Burnaby, and it plans to use other rinks across the city.
Residents in Killarney are no strangers to rink closures. Skaters went over two years without a home rink throughout the construction, and limited ice time makes player development difficult.
“Our youngest players are allocated three quarters of an hour a week to play hockey,” said Wallace. “That’s just not enough to learn to skate and to play, so we’re creative within that, but it would sure be nice to have more ice.”
Wallace notes that access to ice impacts more groups that just minor hockey. Figure skaters, speed skaters, recreational hockey leagues, and leisure skaters all struggle for ice time.
“After the Winter Olympics, there will be a rise in awareness around ice sports, and I don’t see that the legacy that the Olympics is leaving will support growing interest,” said Wallace.
While hockey parents like Sean Reilly and Rochelle Wallace applaud the new rinks at Killarney and Trout Lake, what they really need is more of them.
“Hockey doesn’t require architecture, it requires ice,” said Reilly, before skating out onto the ice to shoot pucks around with the kids.