Merlis Belsher Place officially opened to rave reviews on Oct. 1, 2018, the start of a successful first season in the University of Saskatchewan’s state-of-the-art new multisport complex, a project designed to bring the campus and the Saskatoon community together.
The new $51-million multi-sport facility—featuring two full-sized ice surfaces, two full-sized basketball courts and the visionary Ron and Jane Graham Sport Science and Health Centre—was officially christened by local minor hockey teams, which took to the ice for the first time in the new building Oct. 1. The Huskie hockey teams followed shortly after with their first games in the main arena, as the women’s hockey squad made its home debut on Oct. 5, followed by the men’s team playing there for the first time on Oct. 12.
The main arena has seating for 2,367 people and can provide an additional 1,000 seats if necessary.
Throughout the course of the first season, local minor hockey teams enjoyed more than 1,600 hours of much-needed ice time in the Merlis Belsher Community Rink, exceeding the projected 1,500 hours of ice time annually earmarked for minor sports. In addition to minor hockey, local figure skating, speedskating and sledge hockey clubs used the new facility, along with gym and ice time dedicated to campus recreation activities.
Merlis Belsher Place is also home to two Saskatoon midget hockey teams, the Contacts and the Stars. The double basketball courts in the Ron and Jane Graham Gymnasium are now the main practice facility for the Huskie basketball teams, with the new Saskatchewan Rattlers professional basketball team also booking the facility for training camp and practices.
Spring brought another flood of major activity to the 120,000-square-foot complex, with the campus and the city basking in the national and international media spotlight as Merlis Belsher Place played host to the prestigious Grand Slam of Curling Pinty’s Champions Cup from April 23-28, 2019, featuring nine former world championship teams from eight countries.
Merlis Belsher Place—named in honour of USask alumnus Merlis Belsher, whose historic $12.25-million donation kickstarted the project and was supported by $6 million in funding from the Grahams—also became the new site for the university’s annual Graduation Powwow on May 31, as Indigenous students and supporters from across the province flocked to the facility for cultural celebration of student achievement. The powwow was followed by USask’s annual Spring Convocation, as graduation ceremonies returned to campus for the first time in 50 years and were held at Merlis Belsher Place from June 3-7.
As he eagerly watched the first year of operation, Belsher said feedback has been tremendous.
“I have received many comments from visitors saying they find it beautiful, warm and inviting,” he said. “The positive remarks from people in the community are so meaningful.”
Belsher said there are many people who deserve credit for helping the facility come to fruition.
“As I reflect back to 2015 when I first became involved, it comes to mind there are so many people and groups such as the Alumni Home Ice team that deserve credit for what we have today. I could prepare a very long list of those who were enthusiastic and provided unbelievable support.”
Meanwhile, the Ron and Jane Graham Sport Science and Health Centre, which opened May 3, now supports Huskie student-athletes as well as community members, with training and rehabilitation. The new centre will also lead research into injury prevention, nutrition and conditioning, and performance and recovery, as well as offer a range of physiological, biomechanical and psychological performance assessments and sport psychology coaching for Huskies team members, as well as other athletes from across the city and around Saskatchewan.