After 13 years, the lights are back on in Toronto's legendary hockey shrine.
In a special lighting ceremony on Monday afternoon, Ryerson University unveiled the Mattamy Athletic Centre (MAC), the school's brand new athletic facility inside the former Maple Leaf Gardens.
Over nearly three years, the Leafs' old home was converted into a state-of-the art recreation centre featuring a high-performance gym, a multi-purpose court for basketball and volleyball and most notably, a 2,600-seat arena for the Ryerson Rams men's and women's hockey teams.
"Where we are now is the only one of the original-six NHL buildings that will have hockey in it and ice in it forever," said Ryerson President Sheldon Levy. "It is more than a restoration of a national landmark. It will be a treasure for our great city, our wonderful province and for our great country."
The $60 million renovation project was jointly funded by Ryerson students, Peter Gilgan, the founder and CEO of Mattamy Homes, Loblaw Companies Limited - whose flagship grocery store occupies the ground floor of the Gardens - as well as the Government of Canada's Infrastructure Stimulus Fund.
The new rink inside the Mattamy Athletic Centre. Prime Minister Stephen Harper was on hand to conduct the ceremonial face-off in the new arena, officially ushering in a new era in the Gardens' and Ryerson's history. The ice surface was built on the third floor, more than 50 feet above street level. That makes it the highest-elevated skating rink in Toronto, directly beneath the famed domed roof that the Leafs played under from 1931-1999.
With the 2012-13 season just around the corner, the MAC is expected to lead a re-birth in the university's athletic program. After years of commuting to off-site arenas and seeing its student population outgrow the current outdated athletic facility, Ryerson is eagerly anticipating the start of the new campaign, now that the Rams finally have a home just steps from campus.
"Our new facility has made a significant difference in the quality of student-athlete that we have been able to recruit and also in the diversity of programs that we are able to offer to our recreational students," said Athletic Director Ivan Joseph. "We went from being the university with the smallest amount of space for athletics and recreation — where our teams were driving 45 minutes across campus to a city arena — to having a home in one of the largest and most iconic arenas in Canada."
Ryerson will hold official opening ceremonies for all students at the MAC from September 6-9.