Curtis Lawson (right) waits patiently to skate on the new ice while Curtis Bailey, City of Red Deer facility operator, drives the Zamboni at the newly opened Servus Arena. (Photo by MURRAY CRAWFORD/Advocate staff)

WATCH: Red Deer welcomes Servus Arena, the city’s newest skating rink

Ready six months early, the first blades hit the ice at the Servus Arena.

Replacing the Red Deer Arena, a mainstay of the city’s downtown area was no easy task. But, Mayor Tara Veer said the project marks the beginning of the next era of community history.

“We’re so very proud to be able to showcase and open this facility,” said Veer. “It will certainly meet the needs of Red Deerians for the next 50 years. It has positioned Red Deer to be able to welcome national and international guests for major sporting events.”

On Saturday, the City of Red Deer held opening ceremonies at the rink, located at 4725 43rd St. The festivities included tours, free public skating, food, entertainers and a performance by the Heebee-Geebees, a Calgary-based A cappella group.

The arena already has some major events lined up on its calendar. During the coming 2019 Canada Winter Games, it will host the men and women hockey competitions. This August, it will host games in the Ivan Hlinka Memorial International Ice Hockey Federations U18 tournament.

“This project would not have been possible without the partnering of many community organizations and our sponsors,” said Veer.

“There has been such close attention to detail, in the heritage elements but also in the new modernized elements. This arena meets modernized sporting standards, it’s built to a higher environmental standard. It positions Red Deer, not just for on-ice sports for years to come, but for many community events and festivals in the future.”

The rink will be put to the test right away as the Vipers host the Three Hills Thrashers at 8 p.m. Admission to Saturday night’s game is free.

Though the skating rink is now open, a new parking lot has to be built. This new lot will allow for the Red Deer Public Market to return to its traditional location.

On the first Thursday of every month during the winter, there will be free public skating from 6:30 to 8 p.m. at the rink. The first public skate is scheduled for Feb. 1.

The $21.6 million facility started construction in 2016 after the demolition of the Red Deer Arena.

The arena was built in 1952 and operated for more than 60 years. According to a release from the city, structural reasons were the impetus for building a new facility.

The arena is NHL-sized and will be home to the Red Deer Minor Hockey Association, Red Deer Vipers junior B hockey team and many other user groups including figure skating, ringette and the Morning Blues, a hockey league for people aged 55 and up.

A key component of the old arena remains, as the old arena sign sits atop the stairs spectators take to view what happens on the ice.

Servus signed a 15-year sponsorship agreement to put its name on the barn.

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