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Partnership struck with MacEwan University and Downtown Community Rink

by Ryan Dittrick / Edmonton Oilers

EDMONTON - The MacEwan University Hockey Program is about to get a facelift.

The institution announced Thursday that it will be partnering with the City of Edmonton by contributing $2 million to the development of the Community Rink attached to the new Downtown Arena. In return, the Griffins men and women's hockey teams will be given a permanent home.

The one-time contribution will be used to increase the Community Rink's seating capacity from approximately 300 to 1,000, per Canada West and Canadian Interuniversity Sport (CIS) requirements, and construct designated dressing rooms. The college-turned-university is currently in the process of securing their admission to CIS, where it would become a member of the Canada West Universities Athletic Association (CWUAA).

"Right now we're required to use facilities all over the city and it's not very effective or efficient for us," said David Atkinson, President of MacEwan University. "When the City suggested we might want to partner with them, and they're only a block away, it seemed like a natural thing for us to do.

"We're trying to position MacEwan as a downtown university. We want to be seen good partners for the city. The mayor feels universities and colleges are important to the vitality of the city -- so we need to step up. We're a part of that city building."

The total cost of the Downtown Community Rink project is set at $21 million.

Atkinson emphasized that the $2 million cost is not associated with the school's operating budget. It's described as an "institutional surplus," which is often used for land acquisition, renovations and the construction of various facilities on campus.

"This has no impact on (the budget) at all," said Atkinson. "The Board of Governors are very prudent with their money. There are opportunities that come along and if you don't plan for them, you can't take advantage of them."

"It's the kind of arrangement where they get to use the facilities as a complementary use to the community use and use the Oilers may have in that area," said Gary Klassen, General Manager of Sustainable Development, City of Edmonton. "Their contribution allows them to have some extra facilities there (dressing rooms) and the right seating to enable them to have a very strong program."

Given that the Oilers will only be using the facility for practice during off-peak hours, Klassen sees the partnership with them and the city as a "nice match."

"They're a downtown university and it's a downtown facility," he said. "It couldn't get any better than having that kind of relationship."

The Griffins couldn't agree more.

Currently housed off campus, with the men playing at the Bill Hunter Arena near West Edmonton Mall -- a 15- or 20-minute commute in optimal conditions -- drawing a crowd hasn't been easy.

"I'm very excited. It's going to propel our organization to the next level," said Sean Poitras, a third-year right-winger with the men's squad. "It's going to allow the students to come and watch our games. It's going to bring us to the next level and bring more exposure to our hockey team and our school athletics.

"We've made do with what we have, but we're very excited about the news."

"At our location right now, we're not fortunate enough to leave our equipment there," added women's defenceman Sydney Hawkeswood. "Just having some place to really call home will be a big step.

"It's really exciting."

MacEwan is currently in the Canadian Colleges Athletics Association, but will have its CIS bid heard on May 9. If all goes as expected, the Griffins will move up to compete in the country's highest level of amateur sport, against the likes of the University of Alberta Golden Bears/Pandas and other highly-decorated institutions.

Playing in a brand new, state-of-the-art downtown facility only makes it sweeter.

"Just having the ability to grow with the program and grow to the next level would mean a lot to everyone," said Poitras. "In talking with my teammates, they're all extremely excited.

"The pride within it for our school to grow to the next level means a lot."

-- Ryan Dittrick, | Follow me on Twitter @ryandittrick
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