May 26, 2010

Eskimos ‘digging’ their new digs

Mario Annicchiarico
Edmonton Journal

It was hard to tell just who was diggin’ the new digs more — eighth-year quarterback Ricky Ray or 38th-year equipment manager Dwayne Mandrusiak.

The two members of the Edmonton Eskimos organization were part of Friday’s media tour of the new locker-room, which is still under construction at Commonwealth Stadium but will be ready for the Canadian Football League team’s regular-season opener on July 4 against the B.C. Lions.

“This is spectacular and it’s not even done yet,” Ray said about the 3,000-square-foot circular-shaped dressing room, which is more than twice as big as the old room.

“I can’t wait to see the finished product. This is top-notch and this is going to be as good as anywhere in the world,” he continued. “The facilities here are just unbelievable and we’re going to be the spoiled ones to take advantage of it for the first few years.”

The room will feature a larger area for medical and rehabilitation work, including two massive hot and cold tubs, while the equipment storage area has nearly doubled in size.

When Mandrusiak first started working for the Eskimos in 1971, the equipment room was almost a cubbyhole at Clarke Stadium.

“I had one commercial washer, it had two house washers, a dryer and wooden shelving. It looked like something out of Taxi, but it was a great little area. The best part was it was right next to the kitchen where the ladies cooked the hotdogs at Clarke and that was crazy,” said Mandrusiak, who played an integral role in planning the new room, touring NFL facilities in Green Bay, Cleveland and Houston.

“This is as close to or probably nicer than a couple of them, but this is as close to an NFL locker-room as you’ll ever see,” said Mandrusiak, whose staff will maintain 64 stalls for the players.

Ray, who spent the 2004 season with the NFL’s New York Jets, said he’s never been in a locker-room this nice.

“I’ve been to some of the newer stadiums — Pittsburgh and even in New England, but I’ve never been in a facility like this. It’s similar to the Green Bay (Packers) room, kind of an open concept where you can see everybody,” said the 30-year-old Sacramento State product.

“That’s going to be awesome because our old locker-room was kind of split up in two different rooms, offence and defence. Now it’s going to be great looking at everyone in the face.”

Above the ground-level facility will be second-floor offices and meeting rooms that open up to a patio area on the south end of Commonwealth and include a row of 59 seats that will eventually be sold to spectators. The third floor will include offices, boardrooms and game-day hosting areas.

“We think it will be quite an attractive area for hosting,” Esks president and CEO Rick LeLacheur said about the space right above the locker-room.

“In the fall, we’ll put in some of the outdoor patio heaters. We’re excited about this. It gives us the additional hosting areas that we’ve never had before.”

The actual fitness facility on the south end is not expected to open until a later date. It will include a field house that incorporates a three-quarter-length football field with one end zone.

A swimming pool and workout areas for the public are also in the plans for the northeast recreation facility, which will cost $112 million and is funded by the City of Edmonton, province of Alberta and the Eskimos.

The second and third floors will be ready for the Grey Cup on Nov. 28. The field house will also open for the championship game, but will then close so the facility can be completed in time for the 2011 season.

The Eskimos will be based out of Clarke Park for training camp, which begins Sunday, June 6. A mini-quarterback camp will start Friday, while rookies report on Wednesday, June 2.