When Jared Jacobson explored ideas that would help the development of hockey in western Manitoba, he kept coming back to a single idea.
Now he’s put it into action.
The owner of the Brandon Wheat Kings, who is chief executive officer and president of the Jacobson and Greiner Group of Companies, is building a new rink at the corner of 34th Street and Patricia Avenue.
In addition, he’s opening the Western Canadian Hockey Academy, which is aimed at young players from Grades 5 to 8 and may help stem the flow of talented youngsters to more distant prep programs.
"For me it’s about developing players and keeping people in the centres they grew up in," Jacobson said. "Time flies by for families, and I just look at when kids are 12, 13, 14, it’s tough to leave home … I just wanted to look at a hybrid model to help the mid-market centres keep kids if they want to have another choice in their years of hockey to stay local and develop.
"I think it’s just a great fit, and it’s been well received by Hockey Brandon. I’m so happy for that because we wanted to create an opportunity, not a conflict."
The facility will include a National Hockey League-sized ice surface, three shooting bays on ice, a performance centre, middle-years classroom, six-lane 100-metre track and on-ice video training.
In addition, it will run camps for boys and girls in a number of age groups.
The WCHA will not field a team in the Canadian Sport School Hockey League: Instead, the players will skate with their minor hockey teams as they normally do.
"Hockey is becoming more of a business and it’s becoming more complicated and there are so many more options," Jacobson said. "I hope it simplifies the decision for people and also helps persuade kids to stay in the game longer. It’s tough years when you hit peewee, bantam, the options close, so I’m hoping with development, if we can strengthen them at a younger age, we can keep them playing and have more options for them as they develop."
During each school day, the youngsters will receive 75 minutes of on-ice instruction and 60 minutes of dryland training, with academic instruction focused on the four provincial core subjects: math, science, social studies and English Language Arts in a classroom at the rink.
Wheat Kings academic advisor Glenda Zelmer will serve as the education director, with teacher Lesley Taggart handling the classroom.
On the ice, Dave Lewis and Craig Anderson are moving their Hockey Factory program to the WCHA and the new rink.
"It’s going to be fantastic for the city and Southwest and Yellowhead," Lewis said. "It brings a whole new dimension and opportunity for kids in Brandon and Southwest and Yellowhead to get some skill development, both player development and goalie development that traditionally guys have to go to Winnipeg for. To have that now in southwest Manitoba for our kids is huge."
The academy will ice spring teams after minor hockey seasons end. They will be called the Wolves.
Jacobson has been thinking about the arena project for the last two or three years. In fact, you can say it goes back a lot further.
"Actually I’m the second generation," Jacobson said. "Arena-wise, my dad (Jack) looked at it a few times and was just trying to find the right spot or the right opportunity to do it, and wanted to do it but just kind of held off.
"Now he’s gung-ho to support me in this venture. I think he’s happy to see it come to fruition too."
Jacobson is hoping to have the building ready by late fall. Ground has been broken on the foundation, and they’re working with local sub-trades, plus Behlen and Crane Steel to get the superstructure up in the next month or two.
"It’s looking good so far but construction is construction," Jacobson said. "Our goal is to have this thing occupied late fall."
The cost of the project isn’t being released.
Since Jacobson played Junior A and is now a hockey dad to a talented youngster in his son Jaxon, he’s seen his share of arenas.
That, along with the knowledge he was building it for a hockey academy, helped in the design.
"I kind of had an idea of what I wanted," Jacobson said. "Basically, I based it on the business plan that we want to run there more so, as well for technology and innovation. It’s more based around that."
He noted most arena designs are roughly similar, adding they looked at specific things they could offer that would help with the WCHA.
While it will be home to the hockey academy, it will also be available for public rentals.
With four other ice surfaces in the city — three rinks at the Keystone Centre and one at the Sportsplex — the need for additional ice is growing. The new rink may also allow some of the larger tournaments the city hosts to increase in size.
"We have some great announcements coming with Hockey Brandon and some other organizations within the city," Jacobson said. "They’re looking to help us get our hours booked so it’s been well received so far even in the preliminary stages. I think it’s a big need."
Jacobson said the facility won’t host trade shows or anything like that, so it will help when the rinks are tied up with other events.
Its ice will be in and available.
Plus a Jacobson family dream will come to fruition.
"Hockey rinks aren’t huge profit centres," Jacobson said. "We’re doing this on behalf of the J&G Group and our family for the community to help the community. We really appreciate the support. It’s great for all the local tradespeople to have some great projects this summer.
"We’re doing this for the long-term benefit of the community."
» Twitter: @PerryBergson