Red Deer Rebels owner

Red Deer Rebels owner

Memorial Cup a ‘game changer’ for Red Deer

Red Deer’s 2016 Memorial Cup promises many landmarks.

Red Deer’s 2016 Memorial Cup promises many landmarks.

Not only will it be the first time in 42 years that major junior hockey’s holy grail has come to Alberta, it will mark the 50th anniversary of the Western Hockey League.

The same year, the Red Deer Rebels will celebrate their quarter-century anniversary. Not to be outdone, Westerner Park intends to salute its 125th anniversary, which technically takes place in 2015.

The Memorial Cup trophy was front and centre at a news conference at Westerner Park on Thursday morning attended by local dignitaries, WHL commissioner Ron Robison, and Rebels owner, general manager and head coach Brent Sutter and his entire squad wearing their maroon home jerseys.

Robison said Red Deer can expect some big things when a half-century of WHL hockey is celebrated.

“We’re going to make it a very special season next year. We expect to use the MasterCard Memorial Cup as one of the centrepieces to celebrate our 50th season.

“It’s going to be a very special event in 2016.”

Feeding that excitement will be the end of Alberta’s lengthy Memorial Cup hosting drought.

“That brings it to another level in of itself,” said Robison.

The 10-day event is expected to pump $8 million to $10 million into the local economy, and give Red Deer and area the kind of exposure impossible to put a dollar figure on.

“It has a very significant economic impact, and that would be sort of a moderate estimate at this stage.”

Given the province’s hot economy, the economic spinoffs could well exceed any early paper predictions.

As well, Memorial Cup communities enjoy plenty of legacies from their time in junior hockey’s brightest spotlight.

Volunteers come together, charitable contributions are made and local facilities are highlighted.

“I think it really engages the community in so many ways that it will leave a lasting level of excitement that will probably lead really nicely into the (2019) Canada Winter Games,” he said.

Red Deer Mayor Tara Veer called the Memorial Cup a “game changer in the life of our city.

“We know Red Deerians love their hockey,” she said, adding the successful bid is a sign that the community is primed for sports tourism.

Westerner Park vice-president Graham Heron said they are ready to show off their facilities, which have undergone numerous upgrades in recent years.

The Enmax Centrium added 1,000 seats, 13 luxury boxes and a 40-seat club suite last year as part of a $5.5-million expansion project. And over the summer, the sound system was improved.

Those kinds of investments have clearly paid off for the not-for-profit organization, said Heron, praising the city, county and province for help in bankrolling the expansion.

“With the space that we now have (and) with a large-scale event, it really demonstrates it’s a world-class facility.

“In our opinion, it’s just been a fantastic investment and it’s paying dividends, and it will continue to pay dividends in 2016 and into 2019 when the Westerner will be part of the Canada Winter Games,” said Heron.

Brent Sutter predicted the Memorial Cup will be “the event in town in 2016,” and is looking forward to celebrating the 25th anniversary of his team.

The Rebels will unveil their celebration plans on their website as they are finalized. Ticket information, sponsorship and volunteer opportunities will also be posted.