In its short existence, the MTS Iceplex has made an indelible mark on the hockey community of Winnipeg and the surrounding area. The first facility of its kind in western Canada, the Iceplex boasts a vast array of amenities and has proven to be a one-stop shop for hockey players of all ages, parents and fans alike.
The 177,000 square foot building located at 3969 Portage Avenue has been attracting male and female athletes of all ages and skill levels since opening its doors in August of 2010.
The centerpieces of the Iceplex are the four NHL-sized rinks, each featuring fantastic ice quality, seamless glass, and large player benches. Each rink is sponsored by one of four community-minded businesses. Three of the arenas – Assiniboine Credit Union, Red River Co-op, and Remax – seat 250 spectators, while the main rink, named after Winnipeg Free Press, seats just under 1,500. Each arena also features heated seats and wheelchair-accessible balconies, adding to the comfort level for those in attendance.
The four rinks go a long way in alleviating a problem which has been plaguing our hockey community for years.
“The biggest thing was there was such a shortage of ice for minor hockey,” says Iceplex General Manager Rick Bochinski. “Many Winnipeg-based teams were travelling to rural rinks for ice time. We saw there was definitely a need for more ice time, and that has proven to be the case as we are very busy here, while those rinks continue to be, also.”
With four rinks under one roof, there was no doubt that a highly successful adult recreation hockey league could be a large part of the Iceplex picture. After one year as the ‘Manitoba Moose Hockey League,’ the renamed ‘Winnipeg Jets Hockey League’ is quickly becoming known as a leader in the Winnipeg rec hockey circuit. The league has made significant strides to become the safest and most enjoyable option for adult players in Winnipeg and the surrounding area.
Moving to the second floor – which can be done using the elevator located in the center atrium of the building if necessary – patrons will find Focus Fitness, a 5,500 square foot high performance training centre. Operating out of several locations since 1997 before joining the Iceplex, Focus Fitness has been the training home of many top-tier athletes, including NHLers such as Jonathan Toews, Travis Zajac, Derek Meech
and Jordin Tootoo. Now in its highly visible and accessible location within the Iceplex, players and teams of all ages and skill levels have been looking to Focus Fitness to help them take their game to the next level.
The state-of-the-art training facility features, among other things, treadmills, spin bikes, Swiss, medicine and BOSU balls, cable columns, free weights, extreme balancing boards, agility ladders, bungee cords and resistance belts, tractor tires, sleds, climbing ropes and kettlebells.
Located behind Focus Fitness is THC Winnipeg, a very unique hockey-specific dryland training facility. The highlight of THC is the Speed Ramp, which is an inclined synthetic ice treadmill that allows players to train in their hockey skates. This is the only skating ramp in Winnipeg.
Also featured at THC are slideboard stations, shooting bays and stickhandling zones.
Over on the west side of the second floor, patrons can enjoy the Press Box Restaurant and Sports Bar, boasting a fantastic variety of food and drinks in a friendly environment. The Press Box also features an impressive 14 televisions as well as a great view of the Free Press and Remax rinks, so spectators will not miss any action in the world of hockey, live or televised.
Heading back down to the main level, two additional services can be found, in the form of Centre Ice Concessions, and the Jets Gear Authentic Pro Shop. At Centre Ice, patrons can purchase a wide array of drinks and snacks, while Jets Gear offers services such as equipment repair and skate sharpening. Sticks, blades, tape and Winnipeg Jets Apparel are some of the goods offered at the shop which is located just inside the front entrance of the building.
A recent and exciting addition to the Iceplex has been the Ice Lab, which is a 45-by-37-foot sheet of ice complete with boards, glass and creases, geared toward the private training of goaltenders.
“The feedback about the Ice Lab has been very positive,” says Bochinski. “Everyone who has tried it out has loved it. Typically, if a goalie wants extra training in a one on one setting, it is too impractical and cost-prohibitive to rent a full sheet of ice, so to have one or two goalies out there in the small space has been great.”
The Ice Lab is set to turn even more heads with an exciting new innovation to be unveiled shortly.
“The Ice Lab will be further enhanced by what is called the Biomechanical Analysis, where the goalies will be filmed during their on-ice session so they have a chance to compare their movements with NHL goalies,” says Bochinski.
Given the aforementioned features offered by the Iceplex, it can prove difficult for players to want to leave the building.
“One of the most positive bits of feedback we have received is how the Iceplex is a one-stop shop,” says Bochinski. “Teams like the fact that, in addition to using the regular rinks, they can use Focus Fitness, THC, the Ice Lab, and they can even get their skates sharpened at the pro shop.”
Yet another reason behind the construction of the Iceplex was to provide the AHL’s Manitoba Moose with a practice facility when the MTS Centre was periodically unavailable. After housing the Moose for the 2010-11 season, the Winnipeg Jets have become the main tenant at the Iceplex and the positive effects stemming from this development have been reciprocal.
“Since the Iceplex has been open, one of the most exciting events that we’ve seen is when the Jets opened their main training camp on the Winnipeg Free Press rink,” says Bochinski. “There was such a buzz. The place was full, and the crowd was chanting ‘Go Jets Go,’ and you could tell the players were excited.”
Contrary to Jets practices held at MTS Centre, practices at Iceplex are open to the public which creates a unique experience for fans to get close to the action and the players. This was never more evident than during that first day of camp.
“The Jets dressing room is located in the opposite end of the building from where they were skating, so the players had to walk through the atrium area where a lot of fans were,” says Bochinski. “The players were amazing. The kids were lined up on both sides of the player walkway, and many of the players went up and down both sides of the aisle and signed every single autograph. To have that connection between the players and the kids is phenomenal.”
The importance of hockey to the fabric of Winnipeg and its surrounding area cannot be overstated. Barely into its second year, the MTS Iceplex is giving our hockey community a lot to look forward to for years to come.