Local speed skating club raises alarm over possible Maple Leafs takeover of home rink

A community speed skating club in Toronto is concerned their home rink may be on the verge of getting taken over by the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Lakeshore Arena Corporation says there are currently 'no plans approved' by its board to renovate

Speed skaters start their first lap around the rink.
The Toronto Speed Skating Club says they're worried about possible renovations to one of the only Olympic-sized ice rinks in Toronto that will jeopardize their ability to train. (Spencer Gallichan-Lowe/CBC)

A community speed skating club in Toronto is concerned their home rink may be on the verge of getting taken over by the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Ken George, the president of the Toronto Speed Skating Club, says the club has been warned by the Ford Performance Centre about plans to convert the Olympic-size ice surface they currently use into the size of a NHL hockey rink to accommodate the Leafs.

He says he was told those potential plans were stalled due to global supply chain issues during the COVID-19 pandemic, but fears work could start as soon as this summer. 

"Ultimately, at the end of the day, the Olympic ice is essential for us from both the competition, safety and training point of view to keep our athletes going at the national level," said George.

"We just need a home."

The Ford Performance Centre is the official practice facility for the NHL's Toronto Maple Leafs, and is outfitted with thousands of square feet of dedicated and private space for them, which includes dressing, medical, physiotherapy and training rooms for the team, according to the centre's website. The Leafs, George says, already use three of the venue's four ice pads to practice.

While renovating the rink could benefit the hockey team, doing so would come at the detriment of grassroot sports, the club says. About 200 people strong, George says they've been practicing at the centre for about 15 years because it's one of the only rinks that can properly accommodate high-level speed skating. 

"This is why we're here at this facility and why we choose to be at a facility like this," said George.

The outside of the Ford Performance Centre arena.
The Ford Performance Centre is a City of Toronto corporation. It is the official practice facility for the NHL’s Toronto Maple Leafs. (Spencer Gallichan-Lowe/CBC)

The centre is owned and operated by Lakeshore Arena Corporation, a corporation controlled by the City of Toronto. In a statement to CBC Toronto, executive director of the corporation Graham Cocking says there are currently "no plans approved" by its board of directors to re-configure the playing surface of the rink.

"The Board of Directors of LAC is responsible for prudent management of the arena and will continually review opportunities, as they arise, to realize the best possible use of the facility for the benefit of our users and the broader community," wrote Cocking.

Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment did not respond to CBC Toronto's request for comment.

New rink would be detrimental for skater training, safety

Sophia Fontenelle, a 15-year-old skater with the club, says having a reduced rink not only puts them at a disadvantage when competing, but also changes how they train.

"We have to work around the dangers of competing in a smaller rink," she said.

A composite image of a woman and man speaking.
Valerie Cavar, a former member of the Canadian National Speed Skating team, and Ken George, the president of the Toronto Speed Skating Club, warn slimming down the only Olympic-size ice rink in Toronto's Ford Performance Centre would be detrimental to their sport. (Spencer Gallichan-Lowe/CBC)

Valerie Cavar, a former member of the Canadian national speed skating team, says it creates a number of safety concerns such an increased risk for concussions if young skaters are forced to practice on smaller surfaces.

"Once they get to a provincial level, we need these facilities for them to be able to train at the level and the speed that they're going to be attaining," said Cavar.

The Leafs could benefit from the renovation since cutting down the only Olympic-sized rink would prevent players having to walk across the foyer to get on new ice once they wear a rink down, says Cavar. But that shouldn't come at the expense of other, grassroots sports, she says.

"We wouldn't get athletes on the podium at the Olympics without supporting and funding and giving the facilities required for these sports."

With files from Greg Ross and Kirthana Sasitharan