At the top of his game

CHRIS STEVENSON, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:25 AM ET

It's a good bet Dorothy Hunt has given up wondering if her son, Jeff, is finally going to give up these schemes and get a real education and maybe a real job.

Jeff Hunt, owner of the Ottawa 67's, was a busy man in 2008, helping to bring the world junior championship to Ottawa and acting as the frontman for a group bidding to return CFL football here.

If Dorothy had her way about 20 years ago, who knows how the Ottawa sports landscape would look.

"She was a real Newfoundland mother. When I went home and told her I was quitting my $3.40 an hour job to start my own business, she started to cry. I might as well have come home and told her I was joining the circus," Hunt said recently in his 67's office, surrounded by hockey memorabilia, such as a signed sweater from a CHL all-star game and a pair of chairs upholstered in 67's sweaters.

CARPET CLEANING

He started a carpet-cleaning business at 19 and made himself a millionaire, an other-worldly experience for a kid from Newfoundland, the son of an RCMP officer who thought being an usher at an arena would be a good job, never mind owning sports franchises.

"Two or three years into the business, I had like 50 employees, we were well on our way. I remember I went over to see my mother one afternoon and she asked, 'Yeah, that's nice, but when are you going to back to university?' I don't know when she'll let me off the hook on that one."

Hunt sold the carpet-cleaning business and bought the 67's in 1998.

Despite having to co-exist with the NHL Senators, Hunt tripled the 67's' attendance to about 8,000 a game and turned the team into one of Canada's most successful major junior franchises.

While helping to bring the world junior tournament here and fronting the CFL bid have put Hunt in the headlines this year, the 67's remain his core business and the team's success remains a remarkable story.

Why?

"You can't have that conversation without bringing in the Senators," Hunt said. "What the Senators did is create an appetite for live hockey entertainment. They've had their own success, so their interests have been served. What was created was an opportunity for a live hockey product to fill a void.

FAMILY FUN

"I think it's fair to say the average person in Ottawa cannot make Ottawa Senators hockey a weekly part of their entertainment calendar. I think a typical scenario is people go to a Senators game once or twice a year as a treat, maybe to see their team come in or a particular player or a birthday, and the rest of the time, while they may follow the Sens on TV, to get their live sporting entertainment fix the Ottawa 67's are well-positioned for that. That's the way we've both been able to be successful without being head-to-head competitors."

The 67's have targeted families and children, two groups which aren't likely to be part of the Senators' regular customers.

It's been a busy time for Hunt lately.

The world junior championship was one of the biggest events to hit Ottawa, with 31 games featuring 10 countries.

Hunt bid unsuccessfully a couple of times before for the opportunity. The Senators also had one unsuccessful attempt before Hunt came on the scene.

"Really, this has been 10 years in the making, so it's been a long time coming. I think it's a great reward for the city that has supported junior hockey better here than in any other city in the country," he said before the tournament started.

"People who do not see a lot of junior hockey will be surprised at how exciting the games can be, how skilled these guys are, the intensity. I'll say it in advance: Any game (in the world juniors) will have the intensity of any (NHL) playoff game they've seen. It's fun and rewarding to see these things come together."

Sometime in the new year, Hunt hopes his CFL group -- which includes Ottawa developers and philanthropists Roger Greenberg, Bill Schenkman and John Ruddy -- will get the green light from city staff and council to hammer out the details that will allow them to develop Lansdowne Park into a world-class entertainment facility, including a refurbished Frank Clair Stadium to serve as home to a CFL expansion team to begin play in 2011.

"The thing that is very much on our minds is that our CFL conditional franchise is for a year and will expire at the end of March. We need to have something resolved by then. That's still our hope," Hunt said.

That could make it another big year.

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The Ottawa Sun this week is profiling residents who made headlines in our city in the past year.

Each of our newsmakers will receive recognition in a feature-length article in this series.

- Sunday: Dan Greenberg, Community

- Monday: Marion Dewar, Politics

- Today: Jeff Hunt, Sports

- Tomorrow: Arts and Entertainment

- Thursday: Business


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