Red Deer Rebels boss Brent Sutter is carefully optimistic regarding his club’s chances of hosting the 2016 Memorial Cup tournament.
Sutter, the Rebels owner/general manager/head coach, will learn Wednesday at the Delta Bow Valley Hotel in Calgary whether his club or the Vancouver Giants will earn the right to stage major junior hockey’s grandest event a year and a half down the road.
The announcement is expected to be made between 3 and 3:30 p.m.
“You break down all the elements and you certainly like to think that we have a legitimate shot (of being named tournament hosts), but at the end of the day it still comes down to what the (Western Hockey League) governors think and what they want to do,” said Sutter.
“There’s no way of knowing that ahead of time, but you’d like to think you have a reasonable chance. But again, it will come down to what 20 other governors think.”
The Rebels have history on their side, or rather a lack of Memorial Cup history being that Alberta lasted hosted the Memorial Cup in 1974. The Giants, on the other hand, hosted in 2007, and even though it was the best-attended nine-game tournament ever — with an average paid attendance of 13,496 — the argument could still be made that it’s way past time to place the event in the Wild Rose province.
“You have a team that has never hosted and a province that hasn’t hosted for 40 years now,” said Sutter. “Then you have a team (Giants) that hosted seven years ago, and did a great job of it.
“And yet, that’s why you’re a part of a league — to be given the same opportunities as other franchises.”
It’s no secret that the Saskatoon Blades were awarded the 2013 Memorial Cup — beating out bids from Red Deer and Kelowna — due to the fact the Credit Union Centre in Saskatoon has a seating capacity of 15,195, more than twice that of each of the other two finalists.
In other words, it came down to money — the 22 WHL teams share tournament profits equally — especially with the Blades backed by a sizeable financial guarantee from the Saskatchewan provincial government.
It’s widely believed that league governors will stress the quality of the host team even more this time around. For the record, the Giants are 4-2-0-0 to start the season and the Rebels are 3-3-0-0.
That, of course, is a very small sample and does not reflect what the two teams will look like even a year from now. Sutter is confident that he has enough talent in place that adding a few pieces here and there will be enough to make the Rebels a Memorial Cup contender in 2015-16.
Because he has stock-piled draft picks as trade bait, including a pair of second-rounders courtesy of the Portland Winterhawks, Sutter may be capable of landing an impact player or two — when the timing is right — without losing any of his key skaters.
“We really feel that we certainly have a nucleus and a core group that’s very strong and you can build around that,” he said. “We’ve identified a couple of areas we’d like to be better in and in time we will make that happen.”
As for the fact that the Giants are one win better than his club at the present time, Sutter pointed out that Vancouver had its entire veteran roster available to start the season.
“They didn’t have anybody away at pro camps,” said Sutter, who was minus the services of NHL first-round draft picks Haydn Fleury and Conner Bleackley — both of whom have since returned to the Rebels — to start the regular season.
“That’s a big difference,” Sutter continued. “Besides, it’s not where your team is today, it’s where you’re going to be at down the road, where you’re going to be at a year from now.”
Last month, a ‘hockey committee’ consisting of Brandon Wheat Kings owner/GM/head coach Kelly McCrimmon, Ryan Jankowski of Hockey Canada and Edmonton Oilers head scout Stu MacGregor, evaluated the Rebels’ and Giants’ current rosters and the prospects of the teams being competitive Memorial Cup hosts in 2016.
The committee has submitted its report to the league governors, who may see that one team has an advantage over the other in regards to the present rosters and the potential to improve via the trade route. Whatever, Sutter will know by mid-afternoon Wednesday whether Red Deer will stage the Canadian Hockey League championship event.
“I’m going there with an open mind, but I think we all know what the right thing is to do,” he said.