Overcrowding at Ottawa arenas leaves players on thin ice

By Terry Tinkess

Faced with arena over-crowding and lack of space, the development of groups involved in activities such as girls, women’s, and recreational hockey is being restricted.

When the 11 communities that made up the Region of Ottawa-Carleton amalgamated, 40 ice surfaces were brought under the control of the new City of Ottawa.

However, because of the demands of existing bodies such as minor hockey, figure skating and men’s leagues, the prospect of any new group finding ice time on a regular basis is poor.

The McNabb arena is a clear example of the problem. While the arena is open from 7 am until 12 p.m., on any given day no more than two one-hour ice slots are available for “last minute” rental.

Steve Cyr, a Centretown resident and a regular in men’s league hockey circles has played in the Prescott Hotel Saturday league for three years.

Combined with the other groups he sometimes plays with, Cyr is on the ice approximately four times a week at different arenas throughout the city.

Cyr says a team or league trying to get started would have a difficult time finding a place to play.

“The Prescott league has been running for as long as I can remember. People who have ice contracts just hang on to them, because they know if they give them up, they won’t get them back,” says Cyr.

Roger Dixon, a program supervisor with the City of Ottawa, says the problem of ice availability is nothing new.

“There’s never enough ice. The ice has been full for years right across the eleven municipalities. It’s ridiculous,” he says.

Part of the reason why little is being done to alleviate the shortage is the perception tax dollars can be better spent on other things like health care and education.

There are plans to add a second ice surface to the Barrett arena on Leitrim Road, but according to Dixon, that’s about it.

As far as he is concerned, the answer is simple.

“We need some private contractors to get involved here,” says Dixon.

He points to the new University of Ottawa sports complex, and the $6-8 million dollar double rink facility that is part of a ten-year facility development plan being considered by Carleton University.

To Dixon, building such a complex would make sense.

“In southern Ontario there are private contractors who have built four-plex (four ice surfaces in one complex)…a couple four-plexes would sure solve the problem around here,” says Dixon.

Cyr isn’t really interested in having to travel farther to play hockey. He prefers McNabb, because of the convenience.

“I have a truck, but it isn’t really reliable. If I had to drive very far, I probably wouldn’t play as much,” says Cyr.

There may be some who wouldn’t mind. The prospect of playing in a sparkling new arena might be enough of an incentive to make some groups move out of existing arenas like McNabb, allowing more ice time to be made available for new clients and to the community.

Cyr says he hopes to play hockey for many years to come. He says he loves the game, but there’s more to it than that.

“There’s the social life that goes with it, the camar-aderie,”says Cyr.