Worlds relief?

ADAM WAZNY -- Winnipeg Sun

, Last Updated: 10:06 AM ET

Back in 2003, Hockey Canada bypassed Winnipeg as a host for the 2008 IIHF World Hockey Championship, instead electing to go with a joint bid from Quebec City and Halifax.

Next week, our city might be bailing them out.

Hockey Canada addressed the mounting problems with the Quebec organizers yesterday, giving the city seven days to come together and find out if there is indeed adequate support (political and fan interest-wise) for the event. The Quebec group was supposed to provide an update on where things were last Thursday -- but blew that deadline off -- bringing the future of the 2008 WHC in La Belle Province into question, and in turn, bringing Winnipeg front and centre as a potential replacement site.

OPTIONS OPEN

"We're keeping all of our options open, but I want to make it clear that we're really going to focus on Quebec City in the next seven days," Hockey Canada president Bob Nicholson said via conference call yesterday. "We have had discussions with people in Winnipeg this week and we're pleased with that level of discussion."

Though Nicholson said all of Hockey Canada's efforts will be concentrated on making Quebec City work, there is little doubt Winnipeg should ready itself to save the day. Hamilton could be an option, too, but given the cozy relationship this town has formed with Hockey Canada over the past three years, Winnipeg is the Plan B for the May 1-18, 2008 event. Nicholson admitted as much, confirming the IIHF has already waived some of its conditions to place the world-class tourney here.

"There is no concern as going as far west as Winnipeg," he said. "If it goes over two hour travel (between cities), which Winnipeg (and Halifax) would, you have to have permission from the IIHF. Hockey Canada has received that through (IIHF president) Rene Fasel."

Peter Woods, executive director of Hockey Manitoba, heard rumblings of a potential host city change, but didn't want to speculate until the Quebec situation plays out. He feels while Winnipeg -- already hosting the IIHF Women's Worlds this April -- could handle the challenge, the request could be difficult.

"We'd be at the front end and do some of the heavy loading, but in order to run an event of this magnitude ... it's huge," Woods said. "We're going through that process right now with the women's worlds. You need a real strong volunteer base and there would be about a year for the turnaround in that aspect."

Woods raises another issue of timing, as the Canadian Men's Curling Championship takes place March 8-16, 2008 at MTS Centre (less than two months before the WHC). IIHF bid requirements state there can be no major events in the host city three months before their tournaments, but seeing as the world hockey body has already waived the distance restrictions, that shouldn't be a factor.

If Quebec fails, and Winnipeg doesn't take on the saviour role, Hockey Canada might have to relinquish the rights of the 2008 WHC back to the IIHF. That's a premise Nicholson doesn't even want to consider at this point.

"I certainly don't want to relive 1969, when Canada and Winnipeg were going to host the men's worlds and it did not happen," he said. "We want this event. We feel Canadians want this event. Leading up to (the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver), this would be just such a great event to host, with NHL stars from every country.

"Yes, it is a concern that we could lose it."


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