Yes, the Red Deer Rebels are interested in hosting the 2016 Memorial Cup.
No, the team will not bid to host the Canadian major junior hockey championship tournament if a large-market team enters the process with financial backing that’s impossible to match, unless there’s an understanding that money will not be the deciding factor.
The Rebels know all about that scenario, after being relegated to runner-up status when the 2013 Western Hockey League Memorial Cup host was selected in the fall of 2011. The Saskatoon Blades, backed by big bucks from the Saskatchewan provincial government, were selected over Red Deer and Kelowna.
The Rebels felt at the time that their bid turned out to be a colossal waste of human resources when the Blades’ package featured perhaps $1 million more in financial guarantees and a 14,000-seat facility to boot.
And so, it came down to dollars and cents, with the majority of league governors voting for Saskatoon and a larger windfall as their respective share of the pot that was the Blades’ financial guarantee/potential tournament profits.
To that end, Rebels owner/general manager/head coach Brent Sutter is seeking some sort of guarantee from the league office that his franchise will be given every chance to compete against a large-market team in bidding for the 2016 Memorial Cup. The Vancouver Giants, who hosted in 2007, have already made it public that they’ll be putting forth a bid.
“When you’re a mid-sized franchise you need to know where the league is at with the dynamics of having to compete against large-market teams,” Sutter said Friday. “When you look at the bid for the (2013) Memorial Cup, we put a lot of time into that — eight months worth — and a lot of people were pretty disappointed when we didn’t get it. People not just in our organization, but the community and the province.
“The due diligence is really important. We never had an opportunity to host it the last time simply because we got outbid by a team that had a 14,000-seat arena and with all provincial money behind it. Their bid was significantly higher than our bid, but we had gone as far as we could for a mid-size market team.”
Sutter wants some sort of acknowledgement from WHL headquarters that a potential Red Deer bid won’t be defeated by money alone, that existing facilities at the Westerner, the projection that his rebuilding team will be competitive in the tournament and Red Deer’s prized reputation for hosting national events will be major factors in the selection process.
“Our (2015-16) team should be good and that has to be a priority in the selection process,” he said. “And that’s where the dynamics lie. Hockey should always be the No. 1 priority — what type of team will you have and will you have the assets to get your team to where it needs to be?”
The situation was discussed at the league’s general manager meetings this week in Vancouver and Sutter came away with the feeling that at least some governors would be willing to make the almighty dollar a lower priority in the final selection process.
“I know the league office certainly doesn’t want to see the Memorial Cup always staged in a large market. It’s not good for the league, it’s just not a positive thing,” said Sutter. “That being said, I fully respect all the governors and their mindsets.
“I just have to have more of a comfortable feeling from the league. I just need to get a feeling from Ron (WHL commissioner Robson) that yes, Red Deer could have an opportunity to host.
“As long as we have a chance then I have no problem with it, but to do the work that we and Kelowna did the last time and then lose to a financial bid that blew us out of the water . . . . it’s tough to compete in that environment and I just don’t want to put people through it if at the end of the day you have no chance.
“We’ll see what happens in the next two to three weeks, but as of now our intentions are to bid for the 2016 Memorial Cup.”