'We want to create a buzz'

Jim Cressman -- London Free Press

, Last Updated: 8:53 AM ET

Everybody loves a parade, and hockey fans are no exception. Although the London Knights would like nothing better than to hold one to celebrate their winning the Memorial Cup in May, organizers are planning a downtown parade before the event, honouring the Cup and its participants.

"We want to create a buzz in the city for the entire 10 days (May 20-29)," says Paul Hardy, hired by the Knights as Memorial Cup event manager.

"It'll be Memorial Cup Week in London."

In recent years, the off-ice festivities have become almost as important as the games themselves. Hardy says the logistics of the parade still have to be worked out.

"What type, I don't know, when or how or who . . . but it seemed to be very successful in Kelowna (the 2004 Cup) and the Canadian Hockey League likes it."

It doesn't take much to drum up interest in the Memorial Cup. Fans will be travelling to London from across Canada and the U.S. and many of them have become loyal to the event itself, no matter who's playing.

The Memorial Cup has taken on a Grey Cup-like atmosphere, although local hotel officials don't expect any horses to be ridden through the lobby as was the case one year at the Royal York in Toronto. But organizers want the fans to have fun and once they're here, it's important to keep them entertained and to have them go home with fond memories of their time in London.

That's where the Memorial Cup Fanfest and interactive zones and nightly concerts all come into play.

And just as important, Hardy says, is involving the local fans who may not have been able to secure tickets.

A limited number of tickets will be made available on an individual game basis, with details to come later.

"We can only sell so many seats in the John Labatt Centre," Hardy said. "We definitely want to give an opportunity for as many people in London as possible to experience the Memorial Cup. We want them to be able to touch and feel the event. That's why we want to create that buzz for the entire week."

Hardy said the area outside the JLC will be developed into an interactive zone. It will include a Hockey Hall of Fame display with the Stanley Cup.

"We'll have a beer garden and it'll be an opportunity for fans to come down and watch the games on a giant screen. We really think it will draw a lot of people downtown to be a part of it, even if they're not inside.

"It'll draw them down there and it'll keep them down there."

The Memorial Cup is also about leaving a legacy. The Knights' alumni will run a golf tournament with proceeds going to the veterans' wing at Parkwood Hospital.

The Canadian Hockey League awards ceremony will be on stage at the historic Grand Theatre.

OHL commissioner David Branch, also president of the CHL, said there was a time when there were numerous off-ice activities, "then we got away from that.

"But I really credit Sault Ste. Marie (in 1993) with being the catalyst for bringing that back. They were the first to have a parade.

"They kick-started expanding the event side of the week and the spinoffs certainly allow everyone in the community to touch and feel the event. The same principle has really created the concept of how to host the world junior championship in Canada."

Guelph played host to the 2002 Cup and Storm co-owner and president Jim Rooney was amazed by the people who travelled who weren't fans of any of the competing teams.

"As the product has strengthened itself its grown a culture in our country that goes to all the Cups," he said. "We've begun to see some events that just added to the celebration and now you see each community saying, 'We have one crack at this, we better do a good job.'

"The off-ice events have taken on significant proportions and as it's grown, the people who've done the best jobs have taken it away from their hockey people and hired event managers.

"That was magnified in Halifax (in 2000) as they were the first to have a celebration every night downtown. God love them, it was hockey central down on the wharf every night."

Guelph's emphasis was putting the "Memorial" back in Memorial Cup. It was donated in 1919 to honour those Canadian hockey players who died in the First World War. Veterans were involved on the ice in every pregame ceremony in Guelph.

"It's a hockey tournament, but more than that, and the challenge for each community is what story do they have to tell?" Rooney said.

"It's not just the games, it's the legacy. It's not at the end of the day just about how many beers we sold.

"It's just not passing the torch to the next generation hockey team. With the torch comes the story. If we don't do it, we're missing the mark. This becomes the means of passing the story.

"When you get the chance, dance like you've never danced before."


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