Fixing up the old rink (it was built in 1978 and it was a great OHL facility...in 1980) was not a priority of the previous city council. However, new mayor Neil Ellis (who leads a council that includes Bulls play-by-play man Jack Miller) has been more open to the idea. That openness has led to today, when the public gets its first look at proposed plans to improve the rink.
The two biggest needs have been identified as getting more seats into the building for the Bulls and for making the facility appropriate for more types of uses. The city has budgeted $12 million to the project.
Despite incredible on-ice success over the past decade, recent years have been nervous ones for Bulls fans. When local ownership sold the team to
Winnipeg moving to Phoenix and Quebec to Denver gets more press, but the loss of a junior team could be harder on a community. The CHL is strongest in places like Peterborough, North Bay, Sudbury and Belleville. That it isn't in North Bay any more is a shame. So, although it's nice for London that it is making boatloads of coin in its mini-NHL rink, the pressure that facilities like the John Labatts Centre put on smaller centres can't be overstated. This isn't a great time to be spending $12 million on a hockey rink, but if Belleville values its OHL team it pretty much has to do it. Simmonds has been a patient man, but he is also a businessman. There will come a time when greener (and I do mean greener) pastures are impossible to resist.
And if that happens, the soul of the game in this country will take another hit.