Rinks in West Prince did well during the Canada Games, with high attendance numbers in O’Leary, Tignish and Tyne Valley.
The three arenas each hosted one game. The first game was at the O’Leary Cavendish Farms Arena on Feb 19, with the rink hosting the opening game for Team PEI’s men’s hockey as they faced off against Team Northwest Territories.
“That generated excitement in itself, O’Leary had never hosted Canada Games before,” said Rink Manager Nancy MacMillan. “There was 600 plus people in the building, plus the volunteers. The rink was almost full, it was good.”
Talks between rinks and the Game organizers have been taking place for over a year, enabling rinks to make upgrades to their facilities ahead of the Games.
In O’Leary, work included making some upgrades to technology, doing some work on the arena’s dressing rooms, putting in a new sound system, along with some general maintenance. At the Credit Union Arena in Tignish, work included extending the arena’s parking lot, putting in new seats, and upgrading their sound system.
Tignish hosted a game on March 3, which saw the women’s hockey team from Yukon and the Northwest Territories play.
“I would say there was probably 200 to 250, somewhere around there, the arena has about 362 (seats),” said Manager Tim Gaudet. “If it had have been a PEI team, maybe there would have been more people. It was March Break too, so a lot of people were gone away.”
Mr Gaudet said those in attendance enjoyed the game, which saw Yukon claim victory with a win of 6-0. He added the arena was fortunate to get the opportunity to host a game.
Carl Hibbs, manager of the Cavendish Farms Community Events Centre in Tyne Valley, agreed.
“It was pretty incredible,” he said. “We’re used to the speed of minor hockey, and for most of the kids, it was pretty nice to see these guys flying around.”
Mr Hibbs said being given the opportunity to host the game was a fantastic opportunity for the new arena.
“It was an eye-opener to see how some bigger events work, especially in a new facility when you’re still learning what the building can do,” he said.
The level of excitement leading up to the Feb. 22 was palpable. The game itself saw the men’s hockey teams from Northwest Territories and Yukon. The game was also special because of who was playing. Gavin McKenna, a 15 year old player with the Yukon team and top draft pick for the upcoming Western Hockey League season, made history after he set a new record for points scored in a men’s tournament at the Games.
“Just to see that level of talent and speed on the ice, it was electric,” said Mr Hibbs.
Overall, the Games offered a boost to the host communities in general, but not every business saw residuals from the games.
Backwoods Burger, based in Tyne Valley, leases the canteen space at the arenas in O’Leary and Tignish. For these spaces, named Backwoods Breakaway, there was almost zero traffic at the canteens because minor hockey was on hold during the two week event.
“We had a good turnout during the actual games, but leading up to the games and after the games, and the entire two weeks of the Canada Games, it was slower than usual,” said Owner Erica Wagner. “The actual game itself, it was a good game day of business. It was like the equivalent to a Seniors game (from the West Prince Senior Hockey League) or something that we have.”
Ms Wagner said the biggest challenge was figuring out what to expect in terms of foot traffic, so each Backwoods location stocked up on things they might need. Once the game in O’Leary was over, the business was able to adjust what they needed, and didn’t have to purchase extra stock that wasn’t needed.
She said overall, the games did bring good business to the region.
“It was cool to introduce our facility and the canteen to people from across the country,” she said. “The energy was good, it was exciting, it was fun to see the athletes.”
When it came to hosting the games themselves, the arena managers said it was an honour.
“We were just grateful to have the experience,” said Ms MacMillan. “It was great to see a lot of young people in the building, kids that may be on the next Canada Games team, be it hockey or another sport.”
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