TRAVERSE CITY — Hockey is big in Traverse City.
Now the city's biggest hockey facility is even bigger.
The newest addition and renovations to Centre ICE Arena were unveiled Wednesday. The upgrades to the Huntington Rink include two NHL-size locker rooms, a day care center, hospitality area, trainer's room and mezzanine seating. New locker areas were also added to the fitness area.
Both locker rooms, located behind the benches, are about 2,000 square feet, said ICE President Denny Phillips. The day care center is also over 2,000 square feet.
Funding for the project comes from the Detroit Red Wings golf outing and dinner. Centre ICE has received proceeds from the event for three years and has a commitment from the hockey team for six more, Phillips said.
"It's a wonderful project," said Phillips, adding that the improvements cost more than a half million dollars. "It's adding value to our facility. It's leaving a legacy behind of the Red Wings. When the Red Wings aren't here, our Junior team is going to be using it. That's going to be a great recruiting tool for them."
The project was completed in time for training camp. The eight-team Prospects Tournament starts Saturday. The Red Wings take the ice a week later.
Red Wings general manager Ken Holland said the expansion provides a good first impression for the franchise's young players.
"You try to do things first class," Holland said. "In a world when there's free agency at 27, when there's a cap, you've got to convince people to take a little less to stay. And when you draft players and develop them, this is the first glimpse of the organization — Traverse City and this facility.
"It's the first opportunity to tug at the heartstrings of the players. Any time people are happy where they're at, they're prepared to sacrifice a little bit. That's really what we started (here) in 1997 and this (expansion) takes this facility, the Prospects Tournament and our training camp to another level."
The mezzanine, elevated above the north side of the Huntington Rink, adds about another 180 seats.
"Traverse City has been such an important part of the Red Wings in starting our season," Holland said. "We've always got off to great starts (record-wise), except last year, and I think injuries had something to do with that. Guys come up here and they're excited. They fish, they hunt, they golf, they go out for supper and they train. I go back to my playing days and I loved training camp because you were in a different city and hung out with your teammates. In the mid-90s, we trained in Detroit in Joe Louis Arena; there's 20,000 seats and nobody in the building — there's no atmosphere."
That's not true in Traverse City, where throngs of eager fans line up on a daily basis during training camp to watch the team practice and scrimmage for four days.
"This is also a way for the Wings to have a lasting legacy for the city rolling out the red carpet," Holland said. "There's 200 or 300 volunteers. People take time off and vacation to drive our players, open doors, do whatever it takes to make us happy. And this is a way for us to say thank you. And at the same time, these facilities are really going to add to the experience that we get here for two weeks."
The expansion may anchor the Wings in Traverse City a bit more than the six years it has already committed to, but Holland stopped short of saying the franchise would always stay at Centre ICE.
"I don't see why we wouldn't be here longer," said Holland, who has held training camp in TC since 1997. "But if you miss the playoffs for four straight years, you might want to do something different. But as long as we're competitive, as long as we get off to good starts, hopefully we'll be here 20 years and I'm coming back as a consultant and someone else is managing."
Workers broke ground on the project April 29, completing most work on the facility in just 18 weeks.
Tickets for the Red Wings training camp are $20 each of the first three days, $30 for the Red and White Game on Sept. 21.
TRAVERSE CITY — Hockey is big in Traverse City.
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