Sleeping with the enemy

ERIC FRANCIS -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 9:28 AM ET

The province that helped put the world junior hockey championship on the map will finally get a chance to raise the bar again.

Seventeen years after Red Deer set attendance records while hosting the 1995 tourney, Alberta will once again host the closely-watched Christmas tournament. And this time it will be bigger than ever as Calgary's Saddledome and Edmonton's Rexall Place will be the host venues.

"This will break all the records because it will be the first time we've been able to play all the games in NHL buildings," announced Hockey Canada president Bob Nicholson at a Calgary news conference yesterday.

"This should set records for finances to go back to minor hockey and back to the Canadian Hockey League and more importantly, we'll have a buzz in these buildings we've never seen."

The buzz yesterday revolved around disbelief longtime rival cities Calgary and Edmonton could collaborate on anything.

"We have the football game Monday -- maybe we should have done it in the middle of that to show the two cities can come together," laughed Nicholson, who said several pre-tourney games will be scheduled for small-town Alberta.

"Starting with the summer camp here and building from Dec. 10 until Jan. 15 there's going to be a huge celebration surrounding this. This just continues to build. It's the biggest sports property in this country."

And it was in Red Deer during the 1995 NHL lockout the undefeated Canadian team helped the tourney really take off as sponsorship, attendance and viewership soared.

Here's the compromise made by the massive bid committee spearheaded by co-chairs Jim Peplinski and Lyle Best: Edmonton will get to host all of Team Canada's pool games while Calgary will host the other pool and most playoff games, including the gold-medal matchup.

"At first a lot of people said this won't work, wondering how Calgary and Edmonton could ever agree on something like this," said bid contributor Doug Mitchell from the Calgary Sport Tourism Authority, which projects an economic impact of $45 million.

"But I look at it from an economic standpoint -- nobody else has two significant, thriving cities like we do in Alberta. You never know what events we can have between Calgary and Edmonton now that we can show we can work successfully together. I think it's a first."

The successful bid comes a few years after the Flames and Oilers were outbid by Ottawa to host the 2009 tourney, which is already sold out. Bolstering their chances by increasing support from the city, the province, Hockey Alberta and all five WHL clubs in the province, they beat a strong bid from Toronto for 2012.

Scheduling and ticket information for the 10-team, 31-game tourney won't be available for some time but its anticipated season-ticket holders from both junior clubs will get first crack at the record 475,000 ducats. Almost half of those will be below $40 apiece with 50% of the event's net profits to go to Hockey Canada, 35% to the CHL and 15% to the host committee.

Any way you slice it, the big winner will be grassroots hockey -- something the bid focused on as it linked all levels of the game from minor hockey to the NHL.

"It's about making sure players get a first-class experience and we've shown that when Kazakhstan plays Germany we fill the building," said Nicholson when asked why Canada will host the event three of the next four years (Saskatoon/Regina hosts in 2010). "No other country can do that."

Horst Lichtner of the IIHF agreed, saying there's no concern the rest of the world will lose interest.

"I think it's absolutely OK that hockey goes where hockey is strong," he said, stunned by the size of yesterday's news conference. "I see today what it means to a province like Alberta. Junior hockey in the world would not be the same without Canada."

And the world might not be the same now that Calgary and Edmonton are getting along.


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