'Peg a natural host

ADAM WAZNY -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 11:01 AM ET

When the 2007 World Women's Hockey Championship was handed over to organizers last year, there was a feeling something larger was in store for the international hockey fan in this province.

Could that something be a world junior tournament, say in 2012, when this country can host the event again? Our crystal ball is on the fritz so we can't predict with any certainty, but one thing that isn't broken is the friendship between this town and Hockey Canada. Winnipeg has done itself a great service during the past week, and the eyes of the national program have taken notice.

"Winnipeg has never let us down," Hockey Canada president Bob Nicholson said yesterday. "There is a special feeling for Winnipeg and Hockey Canada, not just through this event but through many events, and (the women's championship) makes that relationship stronger."

That bond was born in 1999 when the juniors were here but didn't fully mature until the MTS Centre arrived. When the juniors were in Grand Forks, N.D. (2005), the program held its training camp here. When Hockey Canada held a women's exhibition game between Canada and the U.S. here last year, Winnipeggers came out in droves and when Quebec City was slow putting a plan together for the 2008 world men's championships, officials were prepared to slide the event right over to Winnipeg.

But is all that enough to bring the high-profile juniors here?

The biggest question mark is cash and whether this town has enough of it to meet the growing guarantees Hockey Canada requires from potential bids. In 2006, Vancouver organizers made a $5.2-million profit promise toward the Hockey Canada coffers. They brought in $9 million.

In Ottawa in 2009, the guarantee is a staggering $12.5 million. And they're projecting more than that.

Nicholson figures as the national corporate interest continues to grow for an easy moneymaker like the world juniors, so too, will the site options for Hockey Canada. That's good news for this town.

"The venue (MTS Centre) is big enough to do that type of event," he said. "The world juniors are a totally different animal. We now are going to be looking at in Ottawa probably $5 million in sponsorships alone. That can now be done in places like Winnipeg.

"It's not all about money, it's about filling the buildings," Nicholson continues. "In the Ottawa situation, we have an 18,000-seat facility (Corel Centre) and a 10,000-seat one (Civic Centre). Take the middle of that and it's right where this building is. There are ways where it could work financially."

While we lack the desired two-pronged venue of an Ottawa or Vancouver (Brandon or Selkirk would be the secondary options, but it's more likely MTS Centre would see more games), what can't be argued is the interest for the nationals here. The Maple Leaf is a hot ticket, as evidenced by the 119,019 tickets sold for the WWHC over the past week.

"If they're filling the building here for women's hockey, you know there's a real good chance they'd be filling it for world juniors," Nicholson said, meaning the entire tournament, not just the Canada games.

"Bottom line, this has certainly helped Winnipeg in what they've done here."

Don't forget, Winnipeg did Hockey Canada a favour by hosting the women's championship. Should a local bid come together for the next junior tourney, let's hope they remember that.


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