Chris Mercer, LU’s chief of staff, was quick to emphasize the idea is in its early stages.
“I wouldn’t go as far as to say we’re absolutely going down that road,” Mercer said. “Obviously, having hockey coming back gives us an excuse to take a look at it again. But certainly there’s a need — both on campus and in the city – for additional rink space.”
Laurentian announced earlier this year it was bringing back its varsity mens hockey team, and introducing, for the first time, womens varsity hockey. They begin play next fall, and Mercer said they will be playing out of Countryside Arena for the time being.
“And we’re comfortable and confident we can be successful playing out of Countryside,” he said. “But we have had some conversations with the city, as well as some private developers, around the concept of what an arena on campus would look like, whether or not it makes sense.”
With the addition of a new ice pad at Countryside, the city now operates 16 ice pads in 14 rinks in Greater Sudbury. However, some of the rinks are old and getting increasingly costly to maintain.
The Leisure Services department is currently working on an arena renewal strategy, which will look at the current state of rinks and come up with recommendations on which ones should be replaced and where new ones should be built.
Mercer said an LU arena with one or two ice pads would have to rent ice time to local minor hockey groups to be economically feasible, and conceivably LU’s plans could play a role in the city’s strategy.
Right now, he said they’re looking at different models on how to proceed. They hope to issue what they’re calling a request for interested partners, which would be an exploratory tender to gauge interest in the private sector.
“Hopefully there’s at least one, and at that point, we can have conversations around what (an arena) would look like,” he said.
“It could be, if a private company builds the arenas, we could contemplate giving the land on a 99-year lease or something like that. So really, it would be up to them, the private company, who they would want to rent the ice to.
“But there likely would have to be other teams utilizing that ice, as well, just to make it a break-even enterprise, or, if it’s a private company, profitable.”
In terms of location, Mercer said it would have to be on campus to ensure the Laurentian community gets the most use out of it.
“That way, the students who do want to go to the games, as well as the faculty and the staff, etc., it would be right here for them.”
Mercer said they’ve already worked out what their budget will be to rent ice at Countryside for their varsity teams. If they can find a way that makes sense to divert that budget to support a new rink at the university, they would do it.
“As long as the costs are similar. But that will get worked out over time, if we decide to put an ice pad or multiple ice pads on campus.
“Right now, the only thing we’ve committed to is exploring the idea. If it takes three months, it takes three months; if it takes three years, it takes three years … There’s no urgency whatsoever.”
Barry McCrory, chairman of the Big Nickel Tournament taking place in Sudbury this weekend, said two new ice pads at Laurentian would be a big boost to local minor hockey.
“Right now, there’s not enough prime time (ice time) available” in Sudbury, McCory said. “For some, they have to drive 45 minutes out to Capreol.”
He said "prime time" ice time is from 5-9 p.m. weekdays, when most kids play minor hockey. The biggest demand for ice is in Sudbury, he said, but hockey in the Valley is growing fast, as well.
“And from my standpoint, for the Big Nickel Tournament, a couple more rinks at Laurentian would be great,” he said. “It’s closer to Countryside.
“With (four ice pads) centrally located like that, it would be easier to run other hockey tournaments, too.”