It’s hard for us who played for the St. Mary’s Huskies in the old Alumni Arena to picture the day when a new hockey arena would grace the campus of the south-end Halifax university. But that day is drawing close.
And while that may be a tough image to conjure, reflecting nostalgically on the old arena, which was affectionately referred to as the ‘ice palace,’ is rather easy.
The new Dauphinee Centre is scheduled to open this fall with an NHL-sized ice surface and, as noted on the SMU website proudly extolling its features; “seating and sightlines designed to enhance the fan experience.”
It’s further noted the arena will seat 850 fans with standing room which will bring capacity to more than 1,200.
Accessibility will be a big feature with an elevator between floors and six accessible changing rooms.
Accessibility really wasn’t a big feature of the old rink, which I called home from 1989 to 1993.
I started out the following season (1993-94) when the program made the ill-fated move to try and turn the then Metro Centre (now Scotiabank Centre) into its new home. I decided to move on around Halloween having already gained my degree the previous May and with designs on pursuing different opportunities.
Unfortunately, being in the bigger venue didn’t mean our product, which was very much unappreciated back in those days (and Canadian university hockey – both men’s and women’s – still doesn’t get the full-respect it deserves in my mind), received a bigger following.
In my estimation, we actually lost fans since the student population, which was making the convenient walk to Alumni Arena, stopped coming, and the Metro Centre looked absolutely cavernous.
Of course, the Halifax Mooseheads moved in the following year, the men’s Huskies team back to Alumni Arena for a few years and then to the Halifax Forum, which was home to the program for the past number of years.
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As a player, I have to say I, at least, really liked the old arena. You became used to the small confines and darkness in the corners and could use that to an advantage against opponents … and we did. Certainly not to the degree we would have liked – we never had enough talent to compete with Moncton, Acadia and Dalhousie, all national powers back in those days – but we did win some big games in the old barn; including handing the Aigles Bleues a rare defeat in their 1989-90 national title year and stopping a long Axemen win-streak during their dominant seasons in the early 1990s.
And while we didn’t have enough talent, I did have the opportunity to play with a few all-star caliber players; some of whom I would suggest rank among SMU’s all-time best.
Forwards Steve Kluczkowski and Jerrett DeFazio (who spent a few years in Antigonish) were prolific goal-scorers who really elevated our offence after the departure of AUS MVP Wayne Morrow – my line-mate for parts of my rookie season – from the program. And as good as Klutch, Faz and Wayne were, centre Craig Teeple is the guy who stands out as not only the best player I played with at SMU but, perhaps, anywhere, which includes a number of senior hockey teams filled with ex-university and ex-pro players, and a year of professional hockey in Europe.
Teeps’ playing-making skills were off-the-charts and while it’s often a cliché to say a guy is a leader on-and-off the ice, it’s a cliché because of guys like Craig.
We had another in goal with the intense and talented Graeme Harvey, and early in my SMU days with tough-as-nails defencemen John Gladiator and Tim Gilligan, who, it could be noted, had zero issue with the unavoidable heavy-contact games played at the old arena.
One of my favourite Alumni Arena stories comes from a January game versus the UPEI Panthers, also very strong in those days. I remember our trainer coming to the dressing room after the first period telling us their team was complaining because their water bottles were freezing up; something veterans of the ‘palace,’ like us, would have never noticed or paid attention too.
Needless to say, we handily beat the Panthers that game. Thanks Alumni Arena.
Stories like those are sure to be shared during what should be one of the biggest gatherings of ex-SMU hockey Huskies this Oct. 4 to 6; a chance to celebrate the new Dauphinee Centre and reminisces about the old home.
I’m sure the St. F.X. X-Men and X-Women will come up a few times during those conversations.