A toe in the water?

in Speaking of Sports by

Canada’s national major midget hockey championship, the Telus Cup, was contested this past week in St. John’s, and though it received some coverage around town, I would venture that many people didn’t know much about it. That’s not really a shock, given the city’s standing on the sports fanaticism scale.

However, the tournament happening in the confines of the Charley Pride Pavilion… er… I mean Mile One Centre, may have been designed as a toe in the proverbial water by Hockey Canada.

For what, you ask?

For the most prestigious international tournament in the world that doesn’t revolve around NHLers, the World Junior Hockey Championship.

Newfoundland and Hockey Canada building a relationship

Before you scoff at that notion, it may be wise to consider the recent track record St. John’s and the surrounding areas have with Hockey Canada events.

The Telus Cup is a big deal in a lot of places around the country.

The Four Nations Cup, the renowned invitational women’s championship, took place here this past Fall.

Last summer saw training camp for the World Junior team at Mile One.

Before that, the World Under-17 Hockey Challenge actually did pretty well for itself at the cavernous confines neighbouring City Hall.

There has definitely been interest in the island from Hockey Canada. Considering – due to tremendous returns on tickets, ad revenue, and media coverage – the World Juniors have become Canada’s to host on a nearly bi-annual basis, that’s a good thing for local hockey fans.

With the responsibility of regularly hosting such a big event, Hockey Canada has to have places on the map to go. Sure they want to fill NHL arenas when they can, but they’re also very PR aware and they know they need to go smaller rinks to maintain the idea that hockey is everybody’s game. It can’t just be a game for big cities with more corporate dollars to throw around.

Yes, they’ve done Vancouver and Ottawa and will do Calgary and Edmonton, but they’ve also done Saskatoon, Red Deer, Kelowna, Kamloops, and Sydney. There is a precedent here.

Factors may conspire in Newfoundland’s favor

There are rumblings that when Canada hosts in 2015 (after hosting this year in Calgary and Edmonton), Newfoundland may enter with a bid that would be centered around St. John’s and Clarenville. I was involved in the U-17 tournament in 2005, and there was talk of it then. Six years would be about enough to make the appropriate inroads. Hosting three prominent Hockey Canada tournaments in that time, plus a World Junior summer camp, isn’t hurting either.

There has definitely been interest in the island from Hockey Canada… that’s a good thing for local hockey fans.

Don’t take this to mean you should be outside Mile One right now for the first crack at tickets. Other cities and towns will be interested as well, and if Hockey Canada is looking for another city with big population and big corporate dollars, it may be 2017 before they target a smaller locale again – if they do at all. The island simply can’t compete with a place like Toronto for some things, and population and corporate support are pretty high on that list.

At this stage in the game a run as host of the WJHC is little more than an interesting thing to ponder. But looking at the Telus Cup last week got me thinking it could be closer than many realize. The required trails to working with Hockey Canada seem to have been blazed enthusiastically, the timeline makes sense, and the politics of picking the right city for 2015 seem to line up in favour of St. John’s for a change.

It’s become cliché over the years but if you build it, they will come. The building may be done, now Newfoundland may just be waiting for them to come.