Club hindered by lack of rink

Without Queen’s-owned arena, figure skaters make daily early-morning trek

Because Queen’s doesn’t have a rink of its own, four-time OUA medalist Kelsey Valentine and her figure skating teammates have early-morning practices at the Memorial Centre.
Because Queen’s doesn’t have a rink of its own, four-time OUA medalist Kelsey Valentine and her figure skating teammates have early-morning practices at the Memorial Centre.
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It’s still dark outside when Kelsey Valentine rises from bed each weekday morning.

By the time she makes it to the Memorial Centre for 6 a.m. figure skating practice, the sun still hasn’t risen. It won’t appear until Valentine and her Gaels teammates have already been on the ice for at least an hour.

The early mornings are one consequence of Queen’s not owning and operating its own rink. The school’s ice-based teams practice north of campus at Memorial, where they share time with the arena’s other tenants.

The University is in the final year of a five-year lease agreement with the City of Kingston to use the Memorial Centre, whose primary tenant is the Church Athletic League — a local minor hockey association.

After receiving multiple interview requests from the Journal, Queen’s Athletics and Recreation said they were unavailable for comment.

It’s an unfortunate reality for Valentine, a fourth-year student in her second year with the figure skating team. To get the recommended eight hours of sleep a night, she has to go to bed at around 9 p.m.

“It really does affect what I have to do at night in order to get organized,” she said. “If I want to do schoolwork at night, I have to really try to get to bed early. I know a lot of [the other skaters] don’t end up getting to bed until 11 or later just because it’s hard to work with that schedule in a school setting.”

Most of the team walks to the rink in the morning, but first-years receive rides from the team’s two head coaches.

Valentine said the early mornings can take a physical toll on individual skaters, and often lead to illnesses. Many skaters miss time during the season because of these ailments and school commitments.

Queen’s tenancy at the Memorial Centre has also deterred prospective skaters. Valentine didn’t join the team until her third year at Queen’s because she was hesitant about the early-morning practices.

“I know there were some girls who came out to tryouts the first day or two and realized it just wouldn’t work with their schedule,” she said.

The lack of a campus rink didn’t prevent the Gaels from finding success at last month’s OUA championships. The team finished fifth overall, while Valentine picked up four medals: three gold and one silver.

The Western Mustangs captured their fourth title in five years at the competition, held in Guelph. The host Guelph Gryphons claimed second and the Ryerson Rams finished third — meaning every podium team came from schools with their own arenas.

Valentine said she understands that financial constraints stand in the way of Queen’s building an on-campus arena. Athletics Director Leslie Dal Cin told the Journal last year that the University would need to raise $15 million in outside donations to fund such a project.

Still, Valentine said a campus rink would alleviate some of the financial burden on the figure skating club itself. The team has to rent out the Invista Centre if they host an interuniversity competition in Kingston, which they did for the 2013 OUA championships.

“It’s really expensive to rent that rink,” she said. “With that in mind, we can’t really ever host competitions unless we’re absolutely forced to.”

Co-head figure skating coach Spencer Yakaback said other university teams have helped foot the bill for Queen’s arena situation. OUA schools split the cost of events like provincials, including the 2013 championships at Invista.

As a varsity club, figure skating receives less funding than Queen’s hockey programs, which hold varsity team status.

Yakaback said financial constraints have a detrimental impact on his program every year.

“It takes up a substantial portion of our budget compared to other schools who have an on-campus rink and don’t have to pay for anything at all,” he said.

Though no development is imminent, Yakaback said a rink would prove beneficial to the school as a whole.

“I think it would be just a great addition to campus.”

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