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Ice hockey arrives in Cambridge with official opening of the Ice Arena and Gattiker Ice Rink

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When Bill Harris soaked in the atmosphere of the Cambridge Ice Arena and Gattiker Ice Rink at the grand opening, it all felt a little surreal to the Cambridge University professor.

“When I came here, I found there was an ice hockey team that had this glorious history”, said Prof Harris. “I found someone had donated £1m, then I just made it a mission in my life’s challenges to see that it happened. It’s a little bit strange because after so many years, it’s almost like it was here for a long time. I think I just haven’t come to grips with the emotions yet and I’m still analysing what it feels like.”

An ice hockey lover in his native Canada, Prof Harris has been the driving force to build an ice rink in the city since arriving in Cambridge in 1997.

The donation he referred to came in 1993 from the late David Gattiker, a Canadian alumnus who bequeathed £1m to the university with the aim of bringing a permanent ice hockey facility to the city.

The Cambridge and Oxford Varsity Match series is the longest-running ice hockey rivalry in the world.

“There were many times when one doubted it was going to make it, but I guess I always had faith that eventually if people heard about it, thought about it and were passionate about it, then we would arrive there,” said Prof Harris.

In a collaboration between town and gown, the dreams have been fulfilled, with the £5.5m facility – one of the most energy-efficient ice rinks in the country – on Newmarket Road opening at the end of August.

On Saturday, a grand opening was held, which also featured the first ice hockey match to be played at the rink – a clash between Cambridge alumni of all ages – and was attended by David Gattiker’s niece, Cynthia Comrie.

Cambridge University senior pro vice-chancellor (education) Prof Graham Virgo said: “We’re delighted. It’s been a long time coming but it’s a really good example of the university, city and councils working together to produce this. There is clearly going to be a benefit to the university, but it’s going to be a real benefit to the people of Cambridge and further afield.

“A big part of what the university wants to do is encourage our students and staff to do physical activity. Some will want to do it at a very competitive level, so there will be ice hockey, curling and figure skating, but it also encourages everybody to come along, go skating and have fun.”

The £1m bequest of Mr Gattiker, donations from other alumni and £2.4m loan funding from South Cambridgeshire District Council made the project possible, on land gifted from the Marshall family.

"It's really brilliant and it wasn't without its challenges because we're just right on the edge of an airport,” said Robert Marshall, vice chairman of the Marshall of Cambridge group.

"When we were first asked, we thought this was so left-field - there are not many airports that get asked ‘can we take the land and put an ice rink on it?’.

“We thought it was the craziest thing we'd ever heard, but the more we heard about it, the more we thought actually, what a great idea.

"What a fantastic idea of Cambridge University to do a town and gown ice rink, which Cambridge did not have.

"Secondly, we thought we can do this and it's going to benefit everybody, including the site on Marleigh which gives us an anchorage point just by the Park and Ride so we're absolutely chuffed to have done it.

"It is a very beautiful and unusual building. My wife, Sheila Kissane, who is from the construction industry, has been involved on the trustees and has been very impressed, as we all are, with the construction and the natural insulation it gives you and the green credentials this place has.

“Everybody is an absolute winner with this, it's so exciting.”

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