Toronto Maple Leafs goaltending legend Johnny Bower watches the current Maple Leafs skate at the Mastercard Centre for Hockey Excellence, the club\'s new practice facility, in Toronto on Tuesday, September 8, 2009. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darren Calabrese
TORONTO - Brian Burke calls his team's new practice rink "a Cadillac."
The Toronto Maple Leafs general manager is not easily impressed but he likes what he sees at the state-of-the-art MasterCard Centre for Hockey Excellence.
Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment unveiled the 24,150 square-metre facility Tuesday, which will serve as the practice centre for both the Maple Leafs and the AHL's Marlies. The facility features four NHL-sized rinks, one of which can be expanded to Olympic size.
Burke marvelled at the structure, the first community ice rink to be built in the Toronto in more than a quarter-century.
"This is a huge day for hockey in this area," said Burke. "The immediate fix for our hockey club is that it gives us the best practice facilities in the NHL, and in the American Hockey League."
The building features spacious exercise and weight rooms, luxurious locker-rooms and a host of other amenities. Players looked around with wide eyes as they surveyed the new digs. Several of them were actually on the ice for practice while the unveiling was going on.
The opening comes exactly nine months after the Montreal Canadiens unveiled their own snazzy new practice facility, featuring two rinks and an indoor soccer pitch. Even though the Leafs' building isn't quite finished - one of the rinks was closed off to the public - they intend to open training camp there this weekend.
With the competition for free agents occasionally coming down to factors other than money, Burke believes having an impressive practice facility can only help the franchise. It may have done so already.
"We brought (goaltender Jonas Gustavsson) before he decided to sign here," said Burke. "We brought him out here a couple of months ago when he was looking around, and he was impressed by it.
"This is a Cadillac as far as facilities go. I think as a recruiting tool, when you're talking to free agents, they all ask about the training facility."
Burke added that the facility will give minor hockey players one more place to develop - a necessity, given the aging state of Toronto's current community rinks.
"Anyone who has a kid in minor hockey here knows that the facilities in Toronto have not been updated," said Burke. "To add four ice sheets in one fell swoop, in a centrally located area, will provide phenomenal opportunity for young players.
"This isn't a Maple Leafs-Marlies facility, it's a community facility where the Maple Leafs and Marlies will practise."
The Leafs and Marlies have committed to holding practices even when community skates or minor hockey events are being held in adjacent rinks, giving fans the rare opportunity to skate mere metres away from their idols.
"I like that," said Burke. "I think it gives us a real opportunity to be proactive in the community and visible in the community on a daily basis. I think it's awesome."
The facility will also house the Toronto Maple Leafs Hockey School, as well as the Ontario offices of Hockey Canada - giving Canada's national teams another place to practice and train. In addition, the Hockey Hall of Fame will relocate its archives and research facilities to the new building.
The facility replaces the existing single-rink Lakeshore Lions Arena, which opened in 1951. The Lions Club will operate the new building.