SASKATOON – This morning the University of Saskatchewan (U of S) announced that commerce and law graduate Merlis Belsher is contributing $12.25 million to help fund a new twin-ice facility on campus. Belsher’s gift is the largest donation from an alumnus and individual in the university’s history.
Community members, Huskies athletes, university representatives and hockey aficionados gathered in the existing home of Huskie men’s and women’s hockey, Rutherford Rink, for the donation announcement.
Built in 1929 and affectionately called the “Dog House”, Rutherford Rink has fallen well below the standard of quality required for a competitive university athletic program. Student intramural and community-based programs and teams also experience challenges with the outdated facility. Although renovated numerous times, it has been clear for many years that Rutherford is beyond repair.
Belsher was honoured to kick off the campaign with his unprecedented contribution to his alma mater.
“I made this donation because of my gratitude for the University of Saskatchewan—it provided me with confidence and education in two professions,” he said. “That was my doorway to a satisfying career in the manufacturing industry.”
The new ice facility will be called Merlis Belsher Place in honour of the historic donation.
The special occasion also marked the public launch of the Home Ice Campaign, through which the university, local minor hockey organizations and community volunteers will ask the public to raise $7 million to complete the funding necessary for the new facility. The fundraising campaign is being led by alumnus and legendary hockey coach Dave King.
“My passion runs deep for the City of Saskatoon, the University of Saskatchewan and Huskie hockey programs,” said King. “This facility will provide our men’s and women’s Huskie hockey teams with a high-quality, fan-friendly facility, but it is more than that. This new ice facility will also improve the student experience by providing more ice time for our campus rec hockey enthusiasts.”
U of S President Peter Stoicheff is proud to partner with the community on this project.
“Over the past number of years, we’ve talked to current and former Huskies, local hockey organizations, our own campus community and people across the province,” he said. “The message was clear: partner with the community to create more ice time for youth as well as to allow access for other sports that would create new opportunities for our city and province. We are committed to serving the community and we anticipate that many of these young athletes will be our future U of S students and Huskies.”
Involving children and community members in the new ice facility is also of importance to Belsher. That’s why $250,000 of his donation is a matching challenge to the Saskatoon Minor Hockey Association (SMHA), which has signed a letter of understanding with the university to reserve a significant number of hours for the use of community hockey programming.
“SMHA appreciates the generosity of Merlis Belsher for his very significant financial support of this exciting project and his commitment to the community,” said Kelly Boes, Executive Director of the SMHA. “SMHA and its 258 teams and their supporters look forward to raising funds that will be matched by Mr. Belsher.”
“This project has long been a priority for the university and the communities we serve and we’re proud to be standing here today for this very exciting announcement,” added Stoicheff.
About the facility:
The $41-million ice facility showcases an impressive list of features, including:
o Twin ice surfaces to provide ice time for the Huskies, community use and Campus Rec hockey teams;
o Gender equitable dressing rooms, medical and training facilities, and storage for Huskie men’s and women’s hockey teams;
o New locker room space for both the Huskies men’s and women’s soccer teams, with good access to their nearby outdoor natural turf practice and game fields;
o A 90-foot main ice surface to reflect current trend to wider ice for competition purposes;
o Seating to accommodate 1,830 with future expansion to 2,310 spectators;
o Flexible space that will allow convocation to be held on campus in the future;
o Space that can also be used to host the Graduation Powwow, trade shows, special events, exams and other community events;
o Twelve dressing rooms with designated additional change rooms for coaches and mixed gender team participants;
o A double gymnasium that will become the primary training centre for the Huskie women’s and men’s basketball teams, complete with amenities;
o A two-storey main lobby that will be the focal point of the entire building, featuring a central reception area that will offer viewing onto each ice surface;
o Food, beverage and lounge facilities; pro shop and skate sharpening services; and
o Space for a high performance research lab.
The construction timeline and projected opening date of Merlis Belsher Place is still to be determined based on funding secured through the campaign.