Red Deer’s “rabid” obsession with Canada’s national sport is helping attract a major junior hockey tournament to the city.
Dozens of teenage hockey players from eight hockey “nations,” as well as hundreds of NHL scouts, will gather in Red Deer in August 2018 when the city co-hosts, along with Edmonton, the Ivan Hlinka Memorial Cup.
City Coun. Ken Johnston sees it as a fantastic opportunity for Red Deerians to watch world-class games, while also showcasing this city on the international sporting stage. “Red Deer is a rabid hockey town… I’m very excited to support this request,” he said.
City council voted unanimously (in Coun. Buck Buchanan’s absence), to approve a funding request from the Cup’s three partner sponsors — Hockey Canada, Oilers Entertainment Group and Red Deer Rebels. They will receive a $75,000 municipal investment in the 2018 event, which will run partly in the new Servus Arena downtown.
With the city recovering from a recession, local businesses can sure use the boost, said Coun. Tanya Handley, and “there’s a clear return on our investment.”
Some $5-million is expected in economic spin-off to the two hosting cities, as well as “brand exposure” for Red Deer through social media and signage, said Stuart Ballantyne, senior vice-president operations for the Oilers Entertainment Group.
The “best-on-best” competition features young players from the United States, Russia, Sweden, Finland’s, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Switzerland as well as Canada. Ballantyne said it’s a major tournament for NHL scouting, attracting 300 to 500 scouts.
The Cup, named for a Czech hockey player and coach killed in a 2004 traffic accident, has been traditionally hosted in the Czech Republic and Slovakia, but Hockey Canada negotiated an opportunity for Canada to host it in 2018, 2020 and 2022. It’s hoped this country will continue to host every second year in perpetuity.
Ballantyne said the vision was always to have two co-hosting cities, with the games split between them. He noted Red Deer’s exceptional new arena, huge support of hockey and the Rebels, and proximity to Edmonton made it a natural choice.
If the Ivan Hlinka Memorial Cup catches on locally, and Red Deer remains a co-host, Ballantyne can see the games possibly moving to the larger Centrium in future.
The 2018 event will feature an Aug. 4 exhibition game between Team Canada and the Czech players in the Servus Arena, followed by two games a day from Aug. 6-8 in the same facility. The semifinals and medal games will be held Aug. 10-12 at Rogers Place in Edmonton.