New Leaf Wayne Primeau ducked outside the dressing room at the new MasterCard Centre for Hockey Excellence on Tuesday to appraise his surroundings.
When Primeau started in the league in 1996, Bill Clinton was starting his second term. He’s seen a few practice rinks.
“Nice digs,” offered a passerby.
“Yes,” Primeau grinned, “if you like perfect.”
The new 30,0000-square foot facility is the first new hockey building in the city in 27 years. It is located near the Leafs old practice facility, just off Kipling and Lakeshore.
You can’t miss it. It houses four rinks, one Olympic-sized and cavernous workout areas for the Maple Leafs and Marlies who will use the centre as their training base. Full facilities including whirlpool and sauna, boardrooms and expansive offices for team personnel.
“This is really nice,” said Francois Beauchemin, another Leaf acquired in Burke’s busy off-season.
“I’ve never seen anything like this before. You take pride in having a place like this to work. You want to take advantage of it.”
Beauchemin and three other new Leafs, Colton Orr, Mike Komisarek
and Garnet Exelby were on hand to represent the players at the event. Also standing in were Leaf greats Darryl Sittler and Johnny Bower.
The facility will also accommodate The D.K. (Doc) Seaman Hockey Resource Centre, an 18,000 square foot, $4 million Hockey Hall of Fame facility that stands alone as the most comprehensive archive and research facility for hockey anywhere.
The Leafs involvement is easy enough to understand. Lakeshore was nearly 59 years old. The practice rink, where players spend the majority of their working time, can be a potent recruiting tool.
“When you talk to free agents,” said Leafs president and GM Brian Burke, “they all ask about the practice facility. We brought The Monster (Swedish free agent goalie Jonas Gustavsson
) here and he was impressed.
“It’s a standard we are trying to achieve is culture of excellence and a culture of winning,” Burke said. “This is Big Blue. This is what we do and this is what we expect.”
The Leafs partnered with the City and MasterCard to make the idea of a rink, expected to come in at between $43 and $45 million, a reality.
“We invested about $5 million,” said Bob Hunter, MLSE’s executive vice president for venues and entertainment.
“We are paying the Lakeshore Lions about $600,000 a year in rent. It’s a significant commitment. Part of the reason this project got off the ground was because we signed a long term deal.”
But the Leafs investment is in something other than equipment. A generation without new hockey buildings will inevitably mean a generation with less hockey. And it stands to reason that people who do not play the game will not be as keen to watch it.
All of which means that by investing in the city and the community, the Leafs area also investing in the future of the sport in Canada’s largest city.
“Anyone who has a kid in minor hockey knows that facilities in Toronto have not been updated,” Burke said.
“To add four ice sheets in one swoop in a fairly centrally located area, I think it’s going to provide phenomenal opportunities for young players. That’s one of the things about it. This isn’t a Maple Leaf\Marlies facility. It’s a community facility where the Maple Leafs and Marlies will practice. “