TRURO, N.S. – A tall man in a red, quilted bomber walks through the foyer with the name “RUSSIA” emblazoned in white letters across his back.
In the same area, between the pool and arena, staff and volunteers at the Rath-Eastlink Community Centre (RECC) are setting up cafeteria-style tables and chairs for a big reception on Thursday night.
“I’m anticipating that we will see 20,000 people come and go from this facility,” general manager Matt Moore said.
That’s taking into account the athletes, trainers, officials and fans who will be participating in Hockey Canada’s 2017 World Junior A Challenge tournament. It runs Sunday through next Saturday, with exhibition games in Truro and Amherst today.
Inside the arena itself, on the upper pedestrian level, a group of Russian hockey players go through a series of off-ice drills. On the surface below, two workers on a man-lift have begun the process of hanging five large national flags that will be draped from a cable strung in the rafters.
The facility is a busy place but nothing like it will be, once the action gets underway.
Preparation began in earnest about a year ago after the RECC was notified it had won the bid to host the prestigious tourney. The pace hasn’t slowed since and even though the final countdown is on, there are many tasks to be completed.
Down on the ice surface, one of the approximately 125 volunteers is busy giving the arena glass a final cleaning. The ice itself is a gleaming white, having been shaved down to the existing logos, repainted and then built back up.
“It was great to see all of the positive feedback of just the look of the ice with how clean it is and the national sponsors,” Moore said.
The new ice lines and logos appear bright and colourful and after the exhibition games have been completed today, the boards will also be adorned with a host of new signage, he said.
“So the building won’t look the same.”
As part of their sales pitch to Hockey Canada, RECC officials said they had “strategically” saved all their Canada 150 celebrations for the end of 2017. That way, they could be included in the overall celebrations, should the facility get the nod.
“We’ve added a large cultural theme to the event,” Moore said. “So each game will have a different cultural theme and there will be different types of food and cultural performers on the stage and foyer. By adding the Canada 150 element to it, all the people coming from other countries are going to experience all the cultures that make Canada what it is.”
And therein lies another aspect of the momentous preparations that have gone into making the whole tourney possible – the RECC is providing meals to all the players, trainers and other team officials after each practice and game.
Then there are the volunteers who are making midnight runs – or whenever called on – to pick up tourney athletes and participants at the airport. Still others are making sure the supplies of Gatorade, pucks and tape and “all those details” are in place.
Others yet are dealing with laundry and related tasks while some ensure the score clock, sound system and lights are all at maximum performance.
Looking down on it all from high in the stands, it’s easy to see how one could become overwhelmed with it all. But Moore simply smiles as he calmly goes over all that has taken place, and is yet to come.
At this point, he can only hope all will be in readiness when the first game whistle blows.
“Preparation right now is really the biggest job and then once the games are in motion, hopefully we have prepared well enough we can step back and react if there are any surprises,” he said.