Ottawa to host 2009 world junior tourney

Bob Nicholson

Bob Nicholson

5/3/2006 5:07:58 PM

OTTAWA (CP) - Ottawa won the right to host a world junior hockey championship on its fourth try and the centrepiece of the city's bid for the 2009 event was the guarantee of a record profit of $12.5 million.

The world under-20 men's championship in Canada's capital could produce a profit as high as $14 million, but it's the guarantee that's eye-popping.

That's over twice what Vancouver put up at $5.2 million to secure the 2006 tournament, although the profit ended up being closer to $9 million.

Jeff Hunt, owner of the Ontario Hockey League's 67's, and Eugene Melnyk, owner of the NHL's Senators, spearheaded the Ottawa effort.

"I'm not suggesting it's only about the money, but quite frankly, you've got to be there with the money," Hunt said Wednesday from Ottawa following Hockey Canada's announcement awarding the tournament to Ottawa.


Ottawa beat out finalists Montreal, Toronto, a joint bid by Calgary and Edmonton and another joint submission by Saskatoon and Regina.

Hunt said his group initially thought a $10-million guarantee might suffice, using Vancouver's returns as a starting point. But the bid committee also didn't want to leave anything to chance.

"That's where Eugene's involvement really helped, because he's in a position to do something I can't, to make a (financial) commitment like that," Hunt said.

"We didn't want to go in there with a tie and hope for intangibles. We wanted to go in there for a win and let intangibles be the icing.

"It's taken us a couple of bids to get the point where we were willing to do anything it took to prevail."

The tournament will be held at Scotiabank Place, which is the home of the Senators, and the Civic Centre, the 67's arena, from late December 2008 to early January 2009.

The 2006 tournament was held in four arenas _ two in Vancouver and one in Kelowna and Kamloops.

Hockey Canada president Bob Nicholson said in Vancouver that future tournaments in Canada will be staged in just two rinks to cut down on travel between arenas for the athletes.

The Gatineau Olympiques' home arena across the river and the Kingston Frontenacs' rink down the road from Ottawa will likely be the site of various teams' camps and pre-tournament games.

Hockey Canada gets 50 per cent of the profits from the tournament in Canada, the Canadian Hockey League 35 per cent and the provincial amateur hockey association of the host city or cities receive the remaining 15 per cent.

The site selection committee includes Nicholson, Hockey Canada chairman Rene Marcil, vice-president of business operations Scott Smith and Canadian Hockey League president David Branch.

The money aside, Ottawa had the desirable combination of a strong junior hockey tradition _ the 67's have been a successful franchise in the city since 1974 _ plus the leadership and resources of the NHL club, including access to its 19,000-seat building.

"We really liked the plan right from the Ottawa Senators right down to the grassroots," Nicholson said Wednesday during a conference call.

"There was a real connect on the hockey side, from the Ottawa and District Minor Hockey all the way through the OHL teams and the Ottawa Senators, led by Eugene Melnyk."

Ottawa had been unsuccessful in three previous attempts when the tournament was awarded to Vancouver in 2006, Halifax in 2003 and Winnipeg in 1999.

Red Deer (1995), Saskatoon (1991) and Montreal (1978) have also hosted the tournament. It is also coming back to Canada in 2012.

The tournament has become bigger and more profitable each time it has been held in Canada and thus highly coveted.

Vancouver was the largest Canadian city to host a world junior championship. The tournament set an attendance record at 325,138 and ticket sales were more than 400,000.

Hunt said Ottawa is projected to break that record at over 450,000 in ticket sales.  

The Montreal Canadiens wanted the tournament in that city in 2009 to tie in with the NHL franchise's 100th anniversary.

The strike against that bid, however, was that there is no major junior hockey team in Montreal. That's not an argument the Canadiens' management wanted to hear.

"I don't necessarily associate a junior franchise in the city with hosting a two-week event that comes every three years to this country," Habs vice-president of marketing Ray Lalonde said.

But it is mostly major junior clubs that supply players for the Canadian team at the world junior tournament.

"We aren't going to go to a bid that doesn't include working with Canadian Hockey League teams and working with minor hockey," Nicholson said. "That is for sure."

The Toronto bid had the weight of Maple Leaf Sport and Entertainment, owner of the NHL's Leafs, leading the charge. Ironically, Toronto's junior hockey tie is the St. Michael's Majors, owned by Melnyk.

"We're extremely disappointed," MLSE vice-president Bob Hunter said. "We thought we were a very serious competitor.

"They've got two great organizations in the 67's and the Senators and a city that was very committed to it. I think they've been to the altar three or four times. I don't think there's any sort of IOU policy that occurs, but obviously they were very committed and wanted it to happen."

Four of the five finalists were either led or backed by NHL teams as both Calgary and Edmonton had the support of the Flames and Oilers, respectively.

That worried the co-chair of the Saskatoon/Regina bid.

"Is this where it's going?" asked Joe Bloski. "What we are seeing is the alignment with professional hockey.

"If that is the direction Hockey Canada is going to take in the future, it will mean no chance for grassroots junior hockey centres like Saskatoon, Halifax and Red Deer and so on. It would take them out of the mix."


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