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'It puts us on the map': Assiniboia draws in visitors to new $18M hockey arena

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The Town of Assiniboia is living up to its nickname as the ‘Heart of the Golden South’ with its new rink attracting visitors from across southern Saskatchewan.

“It puts us on the map,” Mayor Sharon Schauenberg said. “We may be small town Saskatchewan, but we have a ton to offer.”

The Southland Coop Centre opened its doors in September of 2022 after a decade of fundraising and nearly two years of construction.

The state-of-the-art facility serves as a community hub for the town and surrounding area.

The new arena has a walking track that overlooks the ice surface. (Gareth Dillistone/CTV News)

It is equipped with a concession, walking track, teen centre, multipurpose room, a rock climbing wall, pickle ball courts and a simulation room where visitors can play up to 35 different sports.

Zombie dodge-ball is one of the virtual games that visitors can play in the facility's simulator room. (Gareth Dillistone/CTV News)

“It’s a dream come true to have a facility that we can program all ages,” Steph Vandesype, Assiniboia’s recreation and community wellness manager told CTV News.

“We’ve got little kids in here for moms and tots time in the morning. We have seniors walking the track all day, and we have the youth and adults enjoying all the great spaces that we’ve provided.”

The hockey rink also doubles as a concert venue that can fit 1,500 people. The Assiniboia Civic Improvement Association (ACIA) consulted production companies before the facility was built.

“We’re really focusing on trying to make this venue one of the concert hot spots in Saskatchewan in the summer months,” said ACIA president Curtis Nelson.

The facility hosted country music star Jess Moskaluke for the town’s first sold-out concert for the arena’s grand opening in September.

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The centre comes with a price tag of $18 million. The federal and provincial governments pitched in $11.5 million and the rest was fundraised locally.

Members of the ACIA travelled to different hockey rinks to research designs, ultimately settling on one.

“It kind of morphed over the years. We’ve had lots of different iterations and additions to the plans,” Nelson said.

“Twelve years is a lot of patience to get the facility up and going,”

The town is in the running to be named the next Kraft Hockeyville. The title would come with a chance to host an NHL game at the new rink and a cash prize that would help cover the costs of equipment for kids looking to join minor hockey.

“We believe we have a facility here that is worthy of an NHL hockey game and we’ve got great community spirit,” Nelson said.

The Assiniboia Southern Rebels change room. (Gareth Dillistone/CTV News)

For the time being, the town is busy hosting other hockey tournaments. Vandesype said she is planning tournaments for both of her sons and her husband.

“Our phones are ringing off the hook. Our tournaments are overflowing with huge wait lists because everyone wants to be here,” she said.

In the few short months that the rink has been open, the mayor said it is already generating economic spinoff. Hotels, restaurants and businesses are busy on weekends when visitors come to play hockey, she said.

“It’s bringing a lot of people that maybe wouldn’t normally come to small town Saskatchewan into small town Saskatchewan and enjoying all of our amenities,” Schauenberg said.

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