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Winter sports institute unveils player-friendly arenas Add to ...

The only seats in the three new rinks at Calgary's Canada Olympic Park are located at one end of each ice surface, up and away from the players' benches and penalty boxes.

The design was no accident. It made each arena's footprint smaller and thus less expensive to build and maintain. Those watching have better sightlines than they would at ice level.

A third reason is an issue currently plaguing minor hockey, which is the behaviour of some parents at their childrens' games.

"It moves the parents away from the penalty box, away from the players' benches. History shows they behave better," COP chief operating officer Jim Younker said of the design.

Canadian women's hockey team captain Hayley Wickenheiser gave the location of the seats her approval.

"I think that's really smart," she said. "There's also good visibility sitting up there. The kids should be able to have fun and not worry about what the parents are saying or doing."

The three NHL-sized arenas were unveiled Wednesday, marking the completion of the first phase of Canada's first winter sport institute.

When the three phases of the 46,450-square-metre Athletic and Ice Complex are complete, it will exist in concert with the legacies of the 1988 Winter Olympics in Calgary as a sports hub for both Olympians and the public.

The goal is to serve elite athletes' needs all under one roof, as well as provide facilities and programs for minor-sport and recreational athletes.

It's costing $220-million to build. The federal and provincial governments and the City of Calgary are providing $130-million towards the project. A condition of that funding is for the public to have access to the institute.

WinSport Canada, which oversees the legacy and investments from the 1988 Olympics, is contributing more than $60-million.

The second phase is the five-storey office tower which will house the new Hockey Canada headquarters, a 3,000-seat international rink and conference space. Doctors, therapists, sport science labs, coaches' offices and a pharmacy will also be in the office tower.

Younker says Phase 2 will be completed by August and Hockey Canada will start operating there Sept. 1. The AIC will likely serve as the training base for countries competing in the 2011 world junior men's hockey championship in Calgary and Edmonton.

"We're anticipating the 10 teams being based out of this facility over Christmas," Younker said. "We can handle 10 teams."

The third phase is the large fitness centre providing dryland training for elite athletes and the public. If WinSport can raise $20-million by March, the third phase could be finished by the end of 2011, said Younker.

One reason the three rinks were constructed first is they are money-makers. They're already completely booked up and can produce up to $1-million annually, he said.

"The key is this thing is sustainable," Younker said. "It doesn't really give a return on investment, but on an operating basis, it pays for itself.

"That's important to us because we can't continue to draw on our endowment funds. Our new facilities have to support themselves."

Calgary is starved for ice surfaces, which is why the City of Calgary put in $20-million. But the arenas aren't intended to be used only by the local population.

"This whole facility is wired with the latest audio-visual," Younker said. "We"ll have guest coaches come in here, a Tom Renney to pick a name, and run a minor hockey practice here and have it broadcast across the web to minor hockey coaches in every province. They can ask questions."

"The knowledge that's gained here about training and practices are going to be shared across the country. There will be national training programs here for all levels of athletes, coaches and officials."

Looking at the wooden beams spanning the roof of each rink, Wickenheiser said the design reminded her of European arenas.

"It's a beautiful facility," she said. "Why not have everything in one place where you can come and get the best of training?

"All these sports, it fosters an environment where the best of the best get to work with each other and you learn from each other, kind of what we had at the Olympic Oval, but on a much bigger scale."

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