It has been 21 years since Red Deer hosted its last truly prestigious junior hockey event — the 1994 world championship.
That drought will come to a conclusion next May when the city and the Red Deer Rebels present the 2016 Memorial Cup tournament, the national major junior championship.
“It’s going to be an exciting time … it will be the biggest amateur sporting event in our province since the (2012) world juniors (in Calgary and Edmonton),” said Rebels owner/president/general manager/head coach Brent Sutter, who guided his team to a Memorial Cup title in 2001 at Regina.
“The Memorial Cup is a tough thing to win and it’s obviously just as tough to host it,” he added. “But we’ve had a lot of people put a lot of time into this and our goal is to host a Memorial Cup that will never be forgotten. We want to set new standards as to how things have to be done.
“I’m not saying past Memorial Cups haven’t been great, but we want to take it to another level here.”
The Rebels were awarded the 2016 tournament in October of last year, marking the first time since 1974 that the province will stage the event.
“It’s absolutely insane that it’s been that long when every other (western) province has hosted three or four times and the U.S. has hosted three times since then,” said Sutter.
Sutter and various Rebels staff and host committee members — including team vice-president Merrick Sutter and organizing committee co-chair Ron LaRiviere — attended this year’s Memorial Cup tournament at Quebec City on a fact-finding mission, which is common for teams hosting the following year.
The difference between the Quebec City event and the tournament that Red Deer will host was obvious, noted Brent Sutter.
“It’s going to be different here. Quebec City is a bigger city, if you weren’t at the rink or the hotel you didn’t know it was going on,” he said. “Here, it’s going to be everywhere, and that’s pretty cool. This is going to be an outstanding event and wherever you are in the city you’re going to know about it.”
Off-ice activities will be numerous and will be staged mostly at Westerner Park, in the Parkland and Prairie Pavilions.
“The Parkland will host a combination of fan activity, merchandise sales, VIP space and the Hockey Hall of Fame,” said Merrick Sutter. “The Prairie Pavilion will be the entertainment hub, with a beer garden and live entertainment.
“We’re still finalizing the official layout, but the two pavilions will be the core of the non-hockey activities. A good chunk of the Westerner Altaplex will be used.”
The event will require hundreds of volunteers, precisely how many is currently being determined.
“We’re just working on that now. We’ll be sending information out to the public in late October and it will be early November when we do our call out,” said Merrick Sutter.