CALGARY — If you don’t succeed, try, try again.
Brent Sutter placed a bid with the Western Hockey League to host the 2001 Memorial Cup tournament and was rebuffed in favour of Regina. He threw his hat into the ring three years ago in hopes of staging the 2013 event and lost out to Saskatoon.
On Wednesday, it was third time lucky for the Red Deer Rebels owner/president/GM/head coach, whose club was chosen by the WHL board of governors as the host of the 2016 Memorial Cup, with the vote going in the Rebels’ favour over the Vancouver Giants and their owner Ron Toigo. Alberta last hosted the Memorial Cup in 1974 at the Calgary Corral.
“It’s a historical day for the city of Red Deer, the province of Alberta and the WHL, for that matter, for bringing the Memorial Cup to Alberta for the first time since 1974,” said league commissioner Ron Robison, during a press conference at the Delta Bow Valley Hotel.
“If you know the Sutter family, and Brent in particular, you know about perseverance. Brent has bid for this twice and of course he won the Memorial Cup in Regina and has run a model franchise since acquiring the Rebels in 1999.
“When you talk about the significance and the importance of this event it will extend way beyond the city of Red Deer. It will be a provincial celebration. We’re very fortunate that Brent and his organization put forward a very successful bid and we also want to thank Ron Toigo and the Giants for their bid.
“We had two quality bids and at the end of the day the league board of governors have chosen Red Deer to host in 2016.”
After thanking everyone involved in making his Memorial Cup bid a successful one, Sutter insisted that he didn’t hold any grudges regarding the 2011 vote (for the 2013 Memorial Cup) that went in Saskatoon’s favour despite the widespread notion that the winning city’s larger facility and potential to generate more revenues to be shared among league teams were the deciding factors.
“I don’t think we were bitter, we were disappointed,” he said. “You never now what’s going to happen when you get into a situation like this. Saskatoon had a great bid back in 2011 and the governors chose them at that time, but we showed the resiliency to stay with it and not lose our focus and purpose about giving the city and the province what they deserve, and that’s to host the Memorial Cup.
“And that’s what we did — we kept our focus on it and are obviously very pleased and we want to thank the board of governors in our league for giving us this opportunity in 2016.”
Asked if the 40 years between now and the last Alberta-hosted Memorial Cup — and the gap will be 42 years in 2016 — was a major factor in the voting, Sutter seemed almost incredulous. But just for a second.
“Yes, it’s been a long time, and to be honest it’s truly hard to believe,” he said. “But that’s over with now. Now it comes back to the province of Alberta. It’s the most prestigious amateur hockey event and for the city and our organization and the province, for it to come back here after 42 years is outstanding. We have a lot of people to thank, including the city and provincial governments and our host committee.”
The Memorial Cup is a 10-day event that includes a host of off-ice activities, most of which will be held at the Westerner buildings adjoined to or near the Centrium.
“It’s not just about the games, which of course are huge, but we also want to have an event that will attract all kinds of people,” said Sutter, who’s not worried about bringing in enough volunteers to keep everything on track.
“The biggest thing is we can only have so many volunteers and our committee is going to be very big,” he noted. “We’ll have it at the level we’ll need, because we know we’re going to have a tremendous amount of support, not just in Red Deer but from throughout Central Alberta and the entire province.”
In essence, the Rebels’ successful pursuit of the Memorial Cup tournament is a reward to a fan base that has dwindled somewhat over the past 10 years but still remains among the league’s best.
“Any event like this rewards your loyal fans. We have a great fan base in Red Deer that has been tremendously supportive since the team came into existence,” said Sutter. “I know that since I bought the team back in 1999 the fan support has been fantastic.”