Rimouski shows that small cities can work

Ryan Pyette, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 10:00 PM ET

In Rimouski’s Memorial Cup, there’s now some hope for the little guy.

For much of the past 10 years, bigger has been considered better in Cup destinations.

But Canadian Hockey League’s small markets should be able look to the cozy Quebec city of just over 40,000 on the salty St. Lawrence as inspiration to bid for future tournaments, according to CHL president David Branch.

“That’s always been the message,” he said. “We went through a period there, and it wasn’t by design, where we went to bigger centres like Halifax, Vancouver, and London.

“But Rimouski is a smaller city and showed this week it is quite capable of holding the tournament.”

Of course, a new building, hockey-savvy ownership with plenty of dough, full houses and the foundation of a powerhouse team never hurts, either. Neither does a group of ex-NHLers such as Cup-winning Windsor’s Bob Boughner and Warren Rychel returning to the junior ranks.

“A lot of players have been starting to look for something to do after they’re done playing and I think it’s a positive trend to have them in our league,” Branch said. “They know the game and they bring a lot of experience with them and it makes for stronger franchises.”

But Branch isn’t keen on having all three league — the Quebec, Ontario and Western circuits — operate under uniform rules in every sense.

The Western league plays a longer schedule and has more arduous travel than the eastern clubs. The Quebec and WHL are allowed to trade first-round draft picks.

“I believe in regional differences,” he said. “That’s how we’re able to learn from each other.”

Branch isn’t considering any more expansion franchises and said he isn’t threatened by the possibility of another NHL team moving to southern Ontario.

“The NHL is the best league in the world and I think their presence, wherever it is, enhances us,” Branch said. “Maybe you’d at first see some sponsorship dollars going that way but it takes a lot of money to be involved at the NHL level. Our leagues are still affordable for the average family and our sponsors.

“And we haven’t gotten ahead of ourselves with expansion. We’re being very careful with our growth.”

This was the first Cup with drug testing. Branch would not divulge how many tests the CHL performed this year under their newly-installed policy.

“We have a plan in place and we didn’t announce one positive test this year,” he said.

Sunday, the CHL announced a five-year TV contract extension with Rogers Sportsnet. One of the league’s biggest problems isn’t national exposure — it’s keeping their teen stars for more than a year or two.

New York Islander Josh Bailey could’ve been celebrating with Windsor last night and Maple Leaf Luke Schenn, who Kelowna hoped would come back this year, could’ve tried to stop him.

“I don’t see this trend of players going to the NHL at such a young age changing anytime soon,” Branch said. “Not with the salary cap the way it is and teams looking for young talent to develop.”

Branch has yet to speak to top NHL prospect John Tavares about the pros and cons of being granted exceptional status to the OHL four years ago. Tavares believes it was necessary.

“There have been applications since him but no one has been accepted as of yet,” said Branch.

ryan.pyette@sunmedia.ca


Videos

Photos