If Brian McNaughton gets his way, the Lethbridge Hurricanes will be in the national spotlight in May, 2013.
And possibly in the winter of 2012, as well. But more on that later.
On Tuesday, the Hurricanes formally presented a letter of intent to Lethbridge city council to bid for the 2013 Memorial Cup. In turn, city council pledged to support the Hurricanes’ attempt, their third at trying to land major-junior hockey’s annual national championship since 2000.
The Hurricanes also made bids for the 2001 and 2004 tournaments, albeit in losing efforts. Those tournaments were respectively won by Regina and Kelowna.
This time, though, Lethbridge’s bid will be bolstered by $33.7 million worth of upgrades to Enmax Centre, the Hurricanes’ home. Reports say the upgrades will be completed in, coincidentally, 2013.
“The presentation of this letter is an important step in what will be a long and competitive process for us as an organizing committee and a hockey club,” said McNaughton, the Hurricanes’ president, in a press release. “The timing could not be more appropriate; as we feel (general manager and head coach) Rich Preston, (assistant GM) Brad Robson and the rest of the hockey-operations staff have established a strong core group of players that will guarantee that we field a competitive team now and in 2013.”
On Thursday, McNaughton said “the new rink will be our biggest motivator; we didn’t really feel we had a facility of today’s standards. We think our team is going to be competitive and that shouldn’t be a problem.
“But our experience at (the 2010 Memorial Cup in Brandon, Man.), and the entertainment and events beyond the rink, the package they put together, we feel that we can match that.”
Technically, Lethbridge should have a leg up on Brandon if the Hurricanes are successful with their bid. Brandon has a population of approximately 48,000, while Lethbridge is pegged at around 86,000. In 2009, Rimouski, Que., population 42,000, also played host to the annual tournament.
With the Memorial Cup having now been hosted in back-to-back small markets, McNaughton said he’s encouraged to see small and mid-sized markets back on the radar screen following major-market stops in Vancouver in 2007 and Kitchener, Ont., in 2008.
“What occurred to us is that it’s more than just hockey,” McNaughton said of the Memorial Cup. “The Brandon experience, with the Hockey Hall of Fame, the Molson Hockey House, all the entertainment, live music, those sort of things, that’s part of what the Memorial Cup has become.
“It’s a way of galvanizing your community around one function. The big thing is we need our building to be highly successful for the next 15 years, and this is a great way of launching our building. If we can put this event on the resume of our building, we’re going to be able to attract other events as well.”
Now, for more on that later stuff.
Let’s suppose that in 2011, Lethbridge comes out on top of the bidding war for the Cup. And it’ll be a war, for sure.
By then, the Hurricanes and the city will have their Memorial Cup staff in place. With that in mind, logistically, it wouldn’t take much to have the same people put together the WHL’s second winter classic. On Wednesday, the WHL announced it will hold its first outdoor game on Feb. 21, 2011, in Calgary at McMahon Stadium. The host Hitmen will play the Regina Pats.
McNaughton said playing host to an outdoor game was an interesting idea, as he called next year’s game in Calgary “hugely exciting for the WHL. The (outdoor) game raises the profile of our league and that’s going to help us all.”
As for playing host in 2012, he added with a laugh that “We could have good enough weather, but it could also be plus-20 (Celsius). But, yeah, we’d absolutely consider it.
“The university here just opened a brand-new stadium last year, and it’s an outstanding facility. I would definitely consider going in that direction . . . we hadn’t thought of it before, to be honest, but only because we’ve never had a great outdoor venue before. But this would all depend on the cost of artificial ice.
“How much a portable artificial-ice facility would be the determining factor, because we’d only be able to do it if we had artificial ice. We get those plus-20 days in January and February, and we can’t rely (on cold weather). So I think the cost of artificial ice would be no different than any other special event in our league. The cost of some events, for example, are a risk. So the cost of doing an outdoor game would be even bigger than that, and so that’d determine who could really do it.”