The Last three Hours at the Si Miller Arena

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March 27th, 2011 was one of those days, that was to be filled with a surreal sadness. It was the last day of hockey and public skating at the Si Miller Arena. I went down to the old building in the morning and covered the last ever Hubs hockey game. Hubs leader, Moe Lemieux produced a receipt for an hour and a half of ice in 1962, $18.00. On this day, the same ice time, in the same rink was $240. Skating in the game was 65 year old Bobby Deschamps, one last time. Moe ripped off the names of many great players over the years and paused when he got to Ronnie "Satch" Quenneville, one of our best. An hour later, the doors opened for the last public skate and although I was not there, I heard things got a little crazy. Some came with hammers and crow bars, as souvenir seekers had designs on taking a piece of the arena home. One guy even kicked the boards out of a section of seats behind the penalty box. I don’t agree with the apparent attempt at looting, but deferring to saving some history, I too, am guilty of wanting to explore some areas in that building. I have always figured that if the day came that we had to say good bye, there should be an archaeological dig under the stands too, there are artefacts and I would love to search for them. After the skate, at four o’clock, they played the East -West, Bantam B final. I wished I could have seen the last ever official game, but prior commitments meant, that was not to be. For the record, Cornwall, coached by Poirier won 4-3. Originally, that was supposed to be the final ice time. Problem was, the Colts playoff game moved a few regular Sunday night ice times at the Complex across the street to the Si, thus allowing the old rink to hang on a little longer. So, I showed up at 9:00pm ready to spend the final few hours with a dear old friend. Ray Dupuis group, once known as the Domtar crew, was mid way through their hour and a half; I watched the game from every angle possible, a game that this Sunday night group, never expected would mean so much. They would by virtue of Colts priority, play last ever organized pick up game at the Si. The clock ticked closer to the end of Ray Dupuis ice time. At 9:50pm, Steve Malyon backed Zamboni #506 out of its west side cave, one last time. This last ever ice resurfacing would be for the last group of Complex transplanted players, the group from Nav Can. Problem was, only five skaters and two goalies showed up. Soon there would be eight. There they were, the last guys and girl to skate out the legacy of the Water Street Arena. I called one over and asked his name, I didn’t recognize it, I asked him to tell me who he was with and he said, "I don’t know all of them, you might be better to call them over and ask them." Well, for the record Jimmy Falldien, Carl Duchesne, Dan Geneau, Wayne Ramsay, Patricia Beaudin, Nick Villa and Peter Osudar were the last players to skate and push a puck around the Si and for most of those seven, they didn’t really know how special, that last hour could be. As being from Nav Can, six out of the seven came from places in Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Quebec, with only Dan Geneau being from this area. It was time to make best of an opportunity, they looked like they could use some help. Figuratively speaking, I raced home, grabbed my skates and made it back in time to spend 25 glorious last minutes on the ice of the Si Miller arena, one last time. At 10:50, city employee, Todd McLaughlin was in the penalty box and after a few extra bonus minutes, the old siren sounded one last time. It was time to leave, except for one of those last eight skaters. Back to Dupuis boys, the group included many guys I have known over the years. Three of the guys that I have known very well, would do something at about 9:45pm that has to be captured for history to tell. Mike MacDonnell, whom I have known for years, in fact most of us know Mike or have driven by MacDonnell Motors at 7th and Pitt, know that Mike skated to the net in the Si’s south end. His son Trenholm was in moving in that direction too with the puck. Years ago, back in pee-wee, I labelled the son T-Mac when he played hockey with my son Jarrett, and the nick-name stuck. The third important figure was goalie Jason "Jazzy" Labelle, another guy I watched grow up. So, when T-Mac slid the puck to his dad who found a way to beat "Jazzy" guarding that south end net, that would be it, the last legitimate goal in the history of the Si Miller Arena. I took a picture of the unlikely hero’s afterwards and made a big deal about it by announcing the puck would go to the Hall of Fame. Then it started to sink in to some of those sweaty bodies, many of them just realizing, they were the ones to go down in history as the last team to play at the Si. The last hour was now upon us. The easy going Nav Can immigrants had barely scratched the surface of Steve Malyon’s last flood when I asked for their names, fifty minutes later, not much had changed. I needed a picture of them, just because. A group picture at center ice, time to tell Patricia Beaudin she was the last woman to play at the Si and then they left. I made sure they were all gone and then went for a skate. Just a couple of laps, flip a few pucks into each net and then, a brief stop to soak it all in from the so called "rush end." I stared up at the yellow rafters and focused on Dave Ezards number 6. How many were there? The great teams over the years, the future professionals and all stars and Hall of Famers, those great senior teams, the figure skaters, the youth of tomorrow that shaped this city, the thousands upon thousands of ordinary folks like me who have skated in that building in her 74 years, that I would be the last, was pretty special to say the least. At 11:10pm, Todd McLaughlin shoved the nets off the rink one last time. I knew it was time, time to let it go. I sat on the visitors’ bench and took my skates off, one last time. "You coming," Steve yelled, it was time to shut her down. In the bowels of the rinks west side, Malyon went over a check list with McLaughlin, the Brine lines that keep the ice frozen would be first. At 11:19pm, five year city employee, Steve Malyon flipped off the power to the Brine lines. McLaughlin would follow with the silencing of the compressors, the main power panel was last and that was it. The Si Miller Arena, born into existence in 1936-37 as the Community Arena and later the Water Street Arena, a place where the "Rocket" would score his first professional goal, a place that would be the early proving grounds for a generation of junior hockey players and fun loving public skaters, had taken her last breath of life. That was it, that simple, that easy to kill off a legacy, but not the memories. Hey guys, before I go can I get a pail of ice chips from that final flood, seriously both guys looked at me dumbfounded, but kind of went with it. After a few more minutes of soaking it up, Steve Malyon started down the ramp to the main office and quipped, "how about you be the guy to turn off the lights for the last time." As much as this column sounds like it was all about me during those last three hours, clearly it was not. Maybe, had I driven the Zamboni that would have been pushing it? I absolutely do have a life and it is a busy one. It just happened, that I believed it was important to detail these last hours for those who will one day see some pictures and only hear about this once hallowed hockey rink. A rink that always was and will always be, much more than just a barn with ice in it. Many more than me held this place dear, many more than me deserved that final skate and many more than me deserved this last function. Sad as it was, it was truly an honour. To Si Miller, thanks for lending your name to this great old place. At 11:46pm on March 27th, 2011, the Si went black.

Organizations: Si Miller Arena, Domtar, Community Arena

Geographic location: Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Quebec

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