New facility would give girls a rink of their own

At 16, Samantha Harman loves hockey. She has been playing since she was 10. She spends her Saturday afternoons helping younger players with their goaltending. She wakes up at 5 a.m. in order to be at practice by six.

“I just love the game,” Harman said. “I don’t care what time I have to go on the ice. I just want to play.”

The truth is, that many women hockey players are not willing to make the sacrifices Harman does. When it comes to ice in the GTA, the men’s teams get best times and women get what’s left.

Many girls’ and women’s teams are consequently stuck practicing at the crack of dawn, early in the afternoon or late at night.

“I know people who have stopped playing hockey because they are getting older and they just don’t feel like it’s worth it,” Harman said. “I have a lot of friends who left hockey to go play soccer.”

It would give the girls prime-time ice

Relief may be in sight, however. Toronto City Council and the Toronto Waterfront Revitalization Corporation (TWRC) are discussing plans to build a four-pad hockey arena at Unwin Avenue and Cherry Street, in the city’s eastern waterfront area.

The $30 million arena would serve primarily women’s hockey. It would include three regulation rinks, one Olympic-size rink and an indoor lacrosse field.

“It would be really good,” Harmon said. “It would give the girls’ teams prime-time ice, as opposed to the boys’ teams getting that, and us just getting the leftover.”

Harman’s league – the Leaside Hockey Association – is a prime example of the trouble facing women’s hockey in the GTA. The Leaside boys’ teams get priority at Leaside Gardens Arena, and the girls are forced to spread their practices and games over 16 different rinks in the GTA.

Gordon Duncan has two daughters playing for Leaside. For him, afternoon practices create the most strain. “Early evening practices can be a real drag,” he said.

“Trying to leave work early to travel across the city during rush hour. We have a few practices (at Leaside Gardens), but only when the boys’ team is usually there.”

There are approximately 10,000 women hockey players in the GTA. Duncan feels that a new facility for girls’ hockey may increase that number.

‘There are more girls that would like to play’

“I think there are more girls that would like to play, than they have room for,” he said. “Especially in Leaside. The number of kids who came to tryouts last year was enormous, but they had to limit the number of teams. I’m sure one of the issues was ice time.”

Rob Givens also has a daughter playing for Leaside. He worries that even with a new arena for girls’ hockey, the proposed waterfront location will inconvenience players and parents just as much as the current situation.

“I think it’s a good idea in theory,” Givens said. “I think it’s the wrong location, considering most of the girls in hockey are on the outside areas of the city. If it was more central it would make a lot more sense.”

The plans for the new arena are sill in their infancy, but according to John Campbell, CEO of the TWRC, the location is not expected to change.

The TWRC plans to build a park in Unwin Avenue Corridor. “That’s the most likely location,” he said. “We’re planning for Lake Ontario Park. All these recreational facilities could be good buffers for Lake Ontario Park.”

City Council has voted in favour of spending a $20-million grant from the federal government on the arena. Campbell says the TWRC is responsible for the remainder of the cost.