By Cleve Dheensaw
© Times Colonist (Victoria) 2005
VICTORIA, British Columbia – Like many who watched hockey at Memorial Arena, heavy equipment mechanic Lance Lingren and teacher Sylvia Lingren of Lake Cowichan had their favourite cranny.
Victoria Salmon Kings star defenceman Steve Lingren recalls his parents used to sit in the Section 24 corner of the old rink when he played junior for the Victoria Cougars.
Tonight it will be a new section for the Lingrens in a new arena in a new era as the Salmon Kings of the pro ECHL play their first ever game at Save-On-Foods Memorial Centre against the Stockton, Calif., Thunder.
“Everyone I know — my family and friends — are excited,” said Steve Lingren.
“The old rink had character and history but this new one is gorgeous and without a bad seat in the place.”
Lingren played three seasons for the Cougars, including on the last Cats team to call Memorial Arena home in 1993-94, before the WHL franchise departed for Prince George after enduring several painfully bad losing seasons.
“Those were three pretty long years,” he said. “Hopefully, the Salmon Kings tradition in the new building will be one of more wins.”
But the old arena did have many memorable seasons, from Lester Patrick’s pro WHL Cougars of the 1950s to the pro WHL Maple Leafs of the 1960s to the major-junior Cougars of the 1970s and ’80s. Several former Victoria pro hockey stars from Memorial Arena will be introduced on the ice before tonight’s game to honour that heritage.
The Salmon Kings said pre-sales for Thursday’s opener, starting at 7 p.m., were about 5,000 tickets as of Wednesday evening and the team expects a sell-out or close to it. Workers were busy Wednesday afternoon adding the final seats behind the north-end goal and the latest count indicates the arena will have a capacity of nearly 7,400 for hockey.
Colwood-raised Salmon Kings captain Ryan Wade is also a local boy who sees particular significance in tonight’s passing of the torch on Blanshard Street.
“I grew up watching the Cougars at Memorial Arena and that inspired me to go on in hockey,” he said. (Wade captained the Kelowna Rockets of the WHL and was drafted by the Calgary Flames)
“And now we start a new Victoria hockey tradition in a new building. It’s exciting being a part of it.”