Two years after a fire gutted the community’s old rink, residents of Elsipogtog First Nation are getting a first look at their new one.
The rink suffered major damage after a fire in September 2020. Community members campaigned to become Kraft Hockeyville 2021 and when they won, they received $250,000 in rink upgrades and $100,000 in youth hockey equipment.
They also won the right to host an NHL game with the Montreal Canadiens taking on the Ottawa Senators in a preseason game on Saturday in nearby Bouctouche.
Barry Augustine manages the revamped Chief Young Eagle Recreation Centre and says it’s been hard to keep it under wraps this long.
“I think all of us have been wanting to share pictures, like from the beginning, because the whole community wants to see,” said Augustine.
“We’ve been stopping a lot of guys coming in, they want to take pictures, they want to see. Everybody wants to see.”
The rink isn’t 100 per cent complete yet. There are still some issues with the ice-making system’s piping, which could mean the ice won’t be in place until the new year.
Still, it’s a huge moment for the community and one people have been waiting for since the Hockeyville announcement.
Kylie Francis, a member of the group behind the successful Hockeyville campaign, has vivid memories of the day Elsipogtog won.
“It lives on in my head forever, like that feeling,” said Francis.
“We had our announcement in the community hall and we broadcasted it on the big screen”
The First Nation’s hockey community suffered two major blows before being crowned Hockeyville last year.
The first came when with the fire.
The second came in April 2021 when Craig Sock, a band councillor and driving force behind the Hockeyville bid, died after the lobster boat he was on capsized off the coast of Nova Scotia.
A second crew member, Seth Monahan, died in hospital.
“[Sock] was there when we announced the top four, but sadly, he wasn’t there when we announced [the winner,]” said Francis.
“But he was there in spirit”
“He would have been proud. He would have been real proud,” said Augustine.
Band councillor Ruth Levi said for the community, the return of the rink is about more than hockey.
“This arena is the heart of the community,” said Levi. “It’s our pride and joy.”
Augustine said the arena contributes to the overall health of the community, both physically and mentally.
“It’s a wellness centre, I would call it,” said Augustine .
“The last two years, I could see everybody’s down and depressed and when we won this event, it kind of brought everybody back up and believing that we can do it. We can do anything”