New Cambridge rink levels ice hockey’s oldest rivalry

New Cambridge rink levels ice hockey’s oldest rivalry

  • Group photo on the ice with teams in uniform
    Cambridge University Ice Hockey Club members
  • Group photo from the stands with skaters on the ice in the background
    Group photo in the stands
  • Head Coach Bill Harris
    Head Coach Bill Harris
  • Smilling ice hockey player in Cambridge uniform
    CUIHC member
  • Public ice skating session
    Public skating time

All images copyright Cambridge Independent

Cambridge ice hockey players celebrated the opening of a hometown rink on Saturday (28 September 2019) that finally puts the sport’s oldest grudge match on level ice.

The new rink ends a hometown ice rink advantage for Oxford that has lasted at least three decades, and more than 100 years of Cambridge travelling an hour or more for every training session and game. 

Cambridge alumni journeyed in from across Canada and Europe to open the new Gattiker Ice Rink just before the start of the academic year, and more importantly, ahead of the season that always peaks with the varsity match.

Alumni, current players from the men’s and women’s Light Blues, supporters and members of the University applauded the unveiling of the new centre alongside Pro-Vice-Chancellor Graham Virgo, local Cambridge officials and Bill Harris, the man without whom the new facility would still be a distant dream.   

“This is the realisation of many people’s dreams,” said Harris, whose two decades of organising and fundraising turned a £1 million donation in 1993 into one of the most modern ice arenas in the UK.

“Many of these people either gave donations to help build this rink or worked campaigning for it.”   

Prominent among both of those groups at the opening was former captain (2012-13) Thor Richardson, from Winnipeg, Manitoba.

“I flew over just for this… I just had to be here,” Richardson said. “There have been a lot of phone calls between Cambridge and Canada.”  

For decades, Cambridge have had their 'home' ice in Peterborough, about an hour away by coach. Training had to be arranged at odd hours to fit around public skating times, ice dancing clubs, local ice hockey clubs and other users.

“We used to have to practice in the middle of the night on a Sunday and it would wreck your week,” said current women’s Blues President Alison Sutherland.

Sometimes, hosting the varsity match 'at home' in Peterborough also led to unexpected results.

“We had a rare tie,” said Chris Besant, who played from 1982-85 and said that one year the teams were told by rink managers that their ice time had run out.

“They decided we couldn’t play overtime because it was public skating time.”

The new ice rink was the dream of David Gattiker, who played for Cambridge from 1929-31 and was captain in his last year. It was one of the highlights of his life.

The club was established in 1885 when the first varsity game against Oxford was played in St Moritz. This was the first organised match played outside of North America.

The varsity series has been continuous since 1909 making it the oldest and longest running ice-hockey rivalry in the world. Cambridge and Oxford have also played a significant role in introducing the game to other countries in Europe and throughout the world.

By the time Gattiker decided to leave the funds to the University for the building of the ice rink, Cambridge ice hockey players had been travelling hundreds of miles for each of their practices and fixtures for over a century. It was David Gattiker’s recognition of this injustice that inspired his bequest.

Situated close to the Newmarket Road Park and Ride site, on several cycle routes and only 3.1 miles from Market Square, the Cambridge Ice Arena is a world-class ice rink.

It has a full-size, international-standard 56m by 26m ice pad, incorporating the latest technologies to ensure maximum operational efficiency. The venue has been designed to be an adaptable space so that it can meet the needs of its users long into the future and have the least impact on the environment.

The venue’s super-insulated building envelope and almost airtight construction add to its green credentials. Heat recovery, LED lighting, PIR switches, sophisticated control systems and timber roof construction are among the features that contribute to its environmental sustainability.

It can hold some 600 spectators and accommodate over 500 skaters. It houses four changing rooms, a café and multi-use entertainment/community area.

CUIHC teams will get 10 hours of free ice time per week during in the arena that is now operated by a leisure facilities charity named Better. The arena will offer public skating, ice hockey, curling, figure skating, parties and more.

“Equally important to me is that this is a town and gown facility,” Harris said. “I feel it is something we gave to the greater Cambridge Community and will help establish better town-gown bonds and appreciation.”