Canucks: A new practice facility remains a priority, but the potential locations are few

Proximity to Rogers Arena is the main criteria for a new practice rink

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In considering a potential practice rink for the Vancouver Canucks, one criteria stands out among the rest, location.

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As in, it must be reasonably easy for the players to get to. Most of the players live in Vancouver, a few on the North Shore.

Most NHL teams’ first choice for practice is their home rink, former Canucks media relations coordinator Stephanie Maniago points out. But sometimes you do need to vacate your home arena and practice somewhere else.

And when that happens, convenience is essential. There’s the players’ commute to think about, as well as the logistics of moving, or storing, if you have a permanent facility, all of the equipment for players and coaches.

Currently, when the Canucks are forced to decamp from Rogers Arena to Scotia Barn in Burnaby because of a concert or lacrosse game, they have to pack everything up, truck it to Burnaby and then set up in the arena for the day.

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Having a permanent practice facility would eliminate the latter problem.

“From my experience it was 10-15 practices at a practice facility max in a calendar year,” Maniago told Postmedia, after making similar comments on Twitter. “There’s a lot of logistics — equipment movement, etc. — that make the conversation more interesting and complex.”

Maniago pointed to the setups that the Columbus Blue Jackets and Edmonton Oilers have, where their practice rinks are part of their home arena’s physical building, as the most ideal in the league.

Obviously that wouldn’t be possible at Rogers Arena, so finding a site nearby has merit. But if you can’t find a convenient spot, she cautioned, because you don’t need the facility that often it may make just as much sense to pay for upgrades to Scotia Barn or the University of BC, where the Canucks have also practiced in the past.

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With the Canucks looking at two or three potential locations for a practice rink, as president of hockey operations Jim Rutherford said Tuesday, the list of options isn’t that hard to figure out, if you keep the convenience factor front of mind.

There are the two Aquilini Development-connected locations — the former BC Liquor Distribution Branch land at East Broadway and Rupert in Vancouver and a property at the corner of Willingdon and Canada Way in Burnaby — and both certainly have the space to include a Canucks-managed community ice rink in their plans.

But both are in the very early stages of the planning process, so a rink in either spot wouldn’t be ready for years.

There aren’t many other suitable spots in Vancouver that might draw the interest of the Aquilinis.

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The family has partnered with the Musqueam Indian Band, Squamish First Nation and Tsleil-Waututh First Nation, known as the MST Partnership, on a number of projects in Metro Vancouver, including the East Broadway and Willingdon tracts, so perhaps they might see if a rink could be built at one of the other large tracts in the city that MST is planning to redevelop.

MST hasn’t yet partnered with anyone to develop the Jericho Lands or the Heather Lands. Those two projects are at different points in the planning process and neither has a rink attached to it at this point — Jericho is still very early on, Heather’s rezoning application will go before council later this month — so, again, a new rink would still be some time down the track, if one were added at all.

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If time is of the essence — a relative term in city building, especially in Vancouver — could the Canucks simply find themselves having to go back to a plan they were involved in before?

The Plaza of Nations, right across the street from Rogers Arena, is set to be redeveloped. The first phase of the project has secured its development permit and could break ground this year. The second phase of the project, which still needs a development permit, includes a community center and an ice rink.

The Canucks once had a deal with the developer, Canadian Metropolitan Properties, to manage the ice rink, but that deal fell apart for reasons that have never been made clear.

CMP’s Daisen Gee-Wing wouldn’t comment last year on the break up but suggested Postmedia ask the Canucks. The Canucks declined to comment.

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Asked Thursday how he would respond if the Canucks were to approach him anew about reviving the ice rink deal, Gee-Wing demurred.

“I can’t comment. Go ask them,” Gee-wing said. “But we are proceeding on the rink as scheduled.”

Gee-Wing said he has found a new partner to manage the rink, but wouldn’t say who. Regardless, the rink won’t be ready for at least three years.

“Phase 1 takes three years to build out, so if the market remains hot, we could begin sooner,” Gee-Wing said. “All dependent on the real estate market.”

The Canucks once again declined to comment on the Plaza of Nations.

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