Saving the Season: Hay River’s Arena Dilemma

Ice aficionados in Hay River aren’t looking forward to losing their last season before the Arctic Winter Games come to the South Slave in 2018, but sport organizers are positive that they’ll be able to salvage some kind of season for their skaters.

“Our season may not look the same as it has in previous years, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that it has to be a bad thing. It could be great. It could be very memorable,” says Pennie Pokiak, president of the Hay River Minor Hockey Association.

“We have many options available to us. We just need to keep an open mind and make the best of what we are dealt.”

The Town announced earlier this month that it would be moving forward with building an entirely new arena structure rather than overhauling the existing Don Stewart Recreation Centre.

Last October, residents voted in favour of increasing the Town’s borrowing limit to around $15 million for the project, in addition to $4.2 million received from Infrastructure Canada in March. The full cost of the project is still under negotiation with the contractor, Clark Builders.

“It’s a worry for some of the athletes that are heavily into the training and the younger ones wanting to get involved in the sport — it might turn them off.”

Apart from the arena, the new recreation centre — which will still be linked to the community’s swimming pool — will also include a new walking track, larger canteen and cafeteria space, and promises to be more energy efficient. The space will also include an updated curling rink and community hall.

Though the pool will remain open over the next 15 months of construction, ice users and community groups that use the existing meeting rooms and hall will be forced to come up with alternate plans for 2016-17.

For hockey players and skaters, that may include using existing outdoor rinks around the community and more out-of-town travel to tournaments and meets in places like Fort Resolution, Fort Providence, Fort Smith and even High Level.

Mayor Brad Mapes recognizes that the situation is not ideal, especially ahead of the coming 2018 Arctic Winter Games, but said rebuilding was the most cost-effective route for the town to take in preparing to host the large-scale sporting event.

“Realistically, the only option was to tear down and rebuild,” he said. “It’s a worry for some of the athletes that are heavily into the training and the younger ones wanting to get involved in the sport — it might turn them off. There are a lot of athletes worried about their training, and I’ve already heard of a few whose parents have decided to send them off to another community for this coming year.”

Though hockey and figure skating might be salvageable, Mapes said it’s likely that curling and speed skating will have to forfeit a season, which is unfortunate.

Still, like Pokiak, the mayor is looking for a silver lining in the disruption of the regular season.

“I honestly believe that if we lose the ice surface for the whole year, that might be a way to bring back some family events, like the old days when you had to go out and make do with what you had,” he said.

Mapes said the Town is committed to helping spruce up some of the outdoor rinks and a local business has already offered the use of a massive tent structure to enclose one of the ice surfaces. The municipality is also looking at various options for dressing rooms.

As well, because the user groups won’t have any fees to pay the Town, Mapes says there could be more opportunities for travel.

It’s those kinds of options that are helping Pokiak keep a positive attitude and an open mind.

“Really, the possibilities are endless,” she said. “The season will be what we decide to make of it. Is it ideal the year before AWG tryouts? Nope, but our community is pretty amazing and I have full faith that things are going to work out and all kids will have had an awesome experience.”

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