It didn’t take long for the action to heat up once the Barrie Sharks novice hockey team stepped on the ice at the new Centennial Park community rink.

“Over here,” shouted one Sharks player looking for a pass as she was moving down the right side.

The puck got to the front of the net and the scramble was on. Then with a flick of the blade, the puck was in.

“Yes!,” celebrated the goal scorer.

The sights and sounds brought a smile to the face of Barrie Mayor Jeff Lehman. There are few things more Canadian than playing hockey on an outdoor rink.

“It feels like the Winter Classic today for sure. I think it’s awesome,” said the Barrie mayor, comparing the scene at the official opening of the local outdoor rink Feb. 8 to the NHL’s popular outdoor series.

“We had this for a couple of years over by the beach, people got to know it a bit,” Lehman continued. “It always gets well used. I drive by here and it’s almost never, ever empty and it’s often really busy. “By alternating shinny and free skating it gives everybody a chance to use it.”

Lehman, along with Barrie MPP Ann Hoggarth and Allan Craig, a volunteer with the Ontario Trillium Foundation, were on hand for the ceremonial puck drop at the new outdoor rink along the waters of Kempenfelt Bay. The project was largely funded by an Ontario150 Community Capital grant of $260,000 that was given to the city in 2017. The site will double as a twin basketball court in the warmer months.

“It’s wonderful for the kids and for the adults,” Hoggarth explained. “This is a healthy activity. It’s a little chilly today, but when the kids get moving around they’re not bothered one little bit. It’s so important that we model for kids how important activity is. It saves a lot of money in the long run if they’re healthy and active.”

As cold as it was, it won’t likely stop users from lacing up the skates and taking advantage of the new rink.

“It never does,” Lehman said. “Of course it’s great, especially as you start to get to the warmer weather through March. With the compressors we can keep the ice here even when it gets above zero. It should be in use maybe to the end of March and if we’re lucky into April.”

Local businesses also stepped up to provide financial support for the project. CSR Cosmetic Solutions and Skipwith & Associates donated a combined $80,000.

“I can’t say enough about (Skipwith president Debbie DeCaire) and Steve Blanchet (CSR CEO),” Lehman said. “They came to me and said we saw this in the (U.S.) and we would like to donate these basketball courts because it gives teenagers something to do.”

The community coming together can make a difference on projects like these. Hoggarth has seen it over and over again, be it in the health care system, partnerships in business or here.

“It’s just amazing that we have such a wonderful community,” she said. “Everyone in Toronto is very jealous that we have such a wonderful community that comes together to do these things.”

The portable rink was originally donated to the City of Barrie in 2014 by former Penticton Rangers owner Graham Henderson. The city approved a pilot project to install the rink at Centennial Park at Lakeshore Drive and Victoria Street for the winter of 2014-15. The rink equipment was recently moved to its new permanent location at 95 Lakeshore Drive and combined with the two basketball courts.

“This was literally his backyard rink,” Lehman said of the equipment donated by Henderson. “He had this huge backyard rink and he wanted to give this to the city because he wasn’t using it and he wanted Barrie to use it.”

Lehman also announced Thursday a special surprise for local fans of the Toronto Maple Leafs. Maple Leafs Sports and Entertainment will be bringing its Winter Week to the new Centennial Park ice rink on Feb. 17. The special day event features appearances from former Toronto Maple Leafs greats, a Hockey Hall of Fame display, outdoor skating with a Learn to Skate session from the TML hockey development team, as well as games, fun activities, music and giveaways.

“It’s part of Leafs nation,” Lehman said. “They move it around southern Ontario. All Leaf fans out there, please come down here on (Feb. 17). That will be a very special event here.”

Administered by the Ontario Trillium Foundation, an agency of the Government of Ontario, Ontario150 Community Capital Program grants have helped non-profit organizations, municipalities and Indigenous communities renovate, repair and retrofit existing community and cultural infrastructure.

Photo: The Barrie Sharks give the new Barrie Centennial Park community rink a try Thursday afternoon at the official opening of the outdoor rink. Photo by Gene Pereira.

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