Excitement builds as Red Deer prepares to welcome Memorial Cup Thursday morning

Hosting the Memorial Cup is more than a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for Red Deer.

Hosting the Memorial Cup is more than a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for Red Deer.

It’s a once-in-a-generation chance for Alberta.

It’s staggering to think that the last time Alberta hosted the Canadian Hockey League’s title was in 1974 in Calgary. But now, 42 years later, the Memorial Cup returns to the wildrose province.

“It’s amazing it has been this long,” said Brent Sutter, Red Deer Rebel owner, general manager and head coach.

“Maybe Alberta won’t have to wait another 40-some years to host this thing. You have to put a lot of time and effort into it and it truly is a community type of event because you have to have a tremendous amount of volunteers and you have to have a great chair group to oversee it all.”

Starting Friday, the Brandon Wheat Kings, London Knights, Rouyn-Noranada Huskies and Red Deer Rebels square off in the tournament. The Wheat Kings, Knight and Huskies all won their leagues, the Western Hockey League, Ontario Hockey League and Quebec Major Junior Hockey League respectively.

They will battle with the host team for the top major junior hockey title, which has been contested since 1919.

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For Ron LaRiviere, Memorial Cup Host Committee co-chair, the weeks leading up to the event have been exciting.

“We have a tremendous group of volunteers and a great committee,” said LaRiviere. “Everything is falling into place.

“It’s been 42 years since it has been in Alberta, so it’s long overdue. We’re really excited to host the event here in Red Deer and Alberta. It promises to be a great tournament, the hockey will be great and we have a tremendous line of event to supplement it with fan fest, the beer gardens and the arrival ceremony.”

On Thursday, the Memorial Cup is touching down in Red Deer. It will be flown in by a helicopter, landing at Central Middle School and then paraded down to Veteran’s Park for a short ceremony. The helicopter is scheduled to arrive at 11:30 a.m.

Red Deer had put in a bids for Memorial Cups in 2013 and 2001, but were unsuccessful. Saskatoon hosted the tournament in 2013 beating out the Rebels. The Centrium subsequently underwent a major renovation to add 1,000 seats as well as luxury suites and club seats.

Disappointed, but undeterred, the Red Deer contingent tried again the next time it was the WHL’s turn to host the tournament. On Oct. 7, 2014, it was announced Red Deer had won the right to host the Memorial Cup.

“We’d made the bid for 2013 and were unsuccessful,” said LaRiviere. “With the help of Brent Sutter and the Rebel organization we decided to bid again for 2016 and it was just outstanding that we were awarded this event.”

Sutter said he is feeling the excitement in both the room and in the community getting ready for the Memorial Cup.

“People are talking about it, downtown is done up now. It’s exciting,” said Sutter. “It’s not surprising, this community and the people of Central Alberta have always done a tremendous job hosting major events.

“This is the biggest hockey event here since the World Juniors in 1995. Being sold out for every game has been exciting. Wether you’re downtown or up in the rink, the excitement is building.”

mcrawford@www.reddeeradvocate.com

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