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Bomber Stadium Done. Now it’s Time to Tackle the Rinks

There was a time when Kevin Kaiser was one of Winnipeg’s top hockey prospects. He played for the Manitoba Junior Hockey League’s South Blues, went on to the University of Minnesota-Duluth and was drafted by the Quebec Nordiques (85th overall) in 1989.

He bounced around the East Coast League in 1993 and eventually decided that a business opportunity back home in Winnipeg would be preferable to a lot of years on the bus.

These days, he’s a successful financial advisor with the Investors Group, the father of three young kids and he’s a great local promoter for Hockey Inc., the non-profit group that educates parents about the values of a U.S. college hockey scholarship. When it comes to local hockey, he’s part of the scene.

Winnipeg Jets draft pick Jason Kasdorf

Winnipeg Jets draft pick Jason Kasdorf

And that’s why, like so many dads and devotees, he just doesn’t understand this province. After all, we’re prepared to spend $200 million of taxpayers dollars to build a football stadium for two teams that play a total of 18 games a year and yet we aren’t prepared to (a) maintain the hockey rinks we have or (b) build new ones for the burgeoning hockey community we’ve built here in Winnipeg.

“It’s great that we’ll have a new football stadium, I’m all for that,” he said the other day. “But why would we spend $200 million on a football stadium when what we really need for our community is an eight-plex in south Winnipeg.

Remember when the St. James Civic Centre was new? Oct 13 1964

Remember when the St. James Civic Centre was new? Oct 13 1964

“There isn’t enough ice. The old buildings are falling apart and teams have to go outside of Winnipeg to practice and play. It just doesn’t make any sense.”

You have to give Winnipeg credit. Over the past few years, we’ve had a handful of players chosen in the NHL draft. In 2010, Dylan McIlrath and Calvin Pickard plus Quinton Howden from Oak Bank were selected in the first round. In 2011, Winnipeg’s Jason Kasdorf was selected by the Winnipeg Jets while Brandon’s Joel Edmunson went in the second round and Winnipeg’s Michael St. Croix went in the fourth. In 2012, Winnipeg’s Chris Dridger as taken 76th overall while Brendan Leipsic and Travis Brown were also selected.

Meanwhile, the 2010 Conn Smythe Trophy winner and the best forward in the Olympics was a Winnipegger (Jonathan Toews) and the best player in the Canadian Hockey League last year was Tri-City’s Brendan Shinnimin, who just happens to be from Winnipeg.

Billy Mosienko Arena needs a little work

Billy Mosienko Arena needs a little work

But even though we produce some of the best hockey players in the world, our kids still have to drive hundreds of miles outside the city each year in order to practice and play. In fact, the 2012-13 Manitoba Junior Hockey League is the first season in the league’s history in which there will be only one Winnipeg-based franchise: Kevin Kaiser’s old team, the Blues.

NHL draft pick Chris Driedger

NHL draft pick Chris Driedger

This season, the Saints moved from the St. James Civic Centre to the community of Virden, which means there is no longer a Winnipeg-based Manitoba Junior Hockey League team located in the south end of the city.

“The west end is taken care of, thanks mostly to a private business operation,” Kaiser said. “Now that Winnipeggers are moving to the south end of the city to live, you’d think the city (with the help of the province) might think about building a facility to serve the people who need it. Hockey is Canada’s sport and Winnipeg kids are pretty good at it. Why are our rinks in such horrible shape?

“If we can pay $200 million for a football stadium, why can’t we find the money to build eight more sheets of ice?”

Kaiser is right. We’re all thrilled that Winnipeg will have a new home for 18 football games a year. That’s going to be great. But what about thousands of kids who want to play hockey?

Hey, Greg Selinger! Hey, Brian Pallister! Want to get elected? Address the future of hockey in this city.

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