Hay River teams once again have home-ice advantage with opening of new arena

After years of waiting, the Don Stewart recreation centre in Hay River is opening and the athletes set to use it say they're impressed with the results.

Arena for Arctic Winter Games gets rave reviews from athletes, despite delays

Chayce Beck, an 11-year-old hockey player in Hay River, says he thought the arena would be a 'gong show' after the delays. But, he's impressed with the finished product. (Kirsten Murphy/CBC News )

After years of waiting, the Don Stewart recreation centre in Hay River is opening and the athletes set to use it say they're impressed with the results. 

"Just look at it," said 11-year-old hockey player Chayce Beck, breathless from excitement. "It was definitely worth the wait.

"I thought it would be a gong show, but it's actually not that bad." 

The newly minted arena opened briefly to the public on Tuesday night.

The viewing was long enough for people to smell the fresh paint and admire the new ice, bleachers and dressing rooms before Arctic Winter Games organizers take over for the March 18 to 24 event.

Beck is anxious to hit the ice, as soon as he can.

"I think the most impressive thing is how big the ice is because now I'm guessing we have NHL size," Beck said. "We have a lot more space to do drills and have tournaments. I'm very thankful we have an arena again."

The rink has been closed on-and-off for three years.

It first closed in 2015 while municipal workers went on strike. 

Then again for the last two years while the new, $21-million dollar recreational centre was built for the Arctic Winter Games. 

The fire marshal only signed off on the building last week, about three months behind schedule. The main problem was a stairwell not up to code, which has since been fixed. But there's still more to do. 

Members of the public were able to tour the new recreational facility in Hay River this week. It features a new arena and walking track. (Kirsten Murphy/CBC News )

Even on Tuesday evening, installation crews applied finishing touches.

Brianna Goodwin, 14, is a competitive figure skater. She was the first to rush through the doors.

"I was so anxious and excited. I've really missed having an arena," she said. "I can't wait to get on the ice. I just want to skate."

She did make the futsal team though. 

Brianna, left, and Samantha Goodwin check out the new dressing rooms at the arena in Hay River. Both are competitive figure skaters. (Kirsten Murphy/CBC News )

Her sister Samantha, 16, is also a competitive figure skater. Samantha continued to train and pass skating exams during the closures, but also felt ill prepared to try out for the Arctic Winter Games.

Instead of competing in another sport, Samantha is volunteering at the games.

The two sisters hope to compete in future winter games and are counting down the days until they can start training.

"I'm probably going to cry," Samantha said, anticipating her return to home ice.

Others took delight in the off-ice details.

"I like the dressing rooms. There is lots of space for your lockers," Keira Durocher said.

She's said she's looking forward to watching her older brother, Everett, curl and play hockey.

Everett, standing nearby, nodded in agreement.