Playing host to a major hockey event can be ambitious and laborious, but the undertaking can also be rewarding for everyone involved. Fortunately for Winnipeg and its hockey community, they have a successful template to meet the challenges of delivering a successful event.
During the past 20 years, the Winnipeg AAA Hockey Council in conjunction with its provincial and civic partners have, jointly, played host to several premiere amateur hockey events.
Tournaments such as the TELUS Cup (2009) and the Western Canada U15 Championship (twice in 2007 and 2012), were all organized to great national acclaim.
So, when the bid process commenced to secure the 2024 TELUS Cup West Regional U18 Championship, a group of local volunteers decided it was time for Winnipeg to once again open its doors and put on a show.
As a result, the Winnipeg group won the tender and the tournament was officially awarded to the city this past summer with Hockey Manitoba and Hockey Winnipeg also involved at arms-length in the hosting responsibilities.
The West Regional will be played at hockey for all centre (hfac) and feature the top U18 teams from Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Northwestern Ontario in a four-team showdown, April 4-7. The Winnipeg Wild – one of three city teams in the Manitoba U18 Hockey League (MU18HL) - will be the host team.
It will be an exciting opportunity for the Wild and an accolade as logical hosts, especially since they will be vying for their third straight league title this season.
“We have a history of running a lot of smaller and world-class events,” says Monte Miller, chair of the 2024 West Regional Host Committee. “It’s a great way to showcase our AAA program, our hockey community and facilities.”
Miller’s committee consists of over 20 volunteers, ranging from former Wild players and parents to a faction of experienced hockey administrators.
After winning the right to host, Miller said event planning started in earnest almost immediately with various sub-committees being formed in areas like sponsorship, safety and communications.
With vast experience in sports and facility management from previous employment at Tourism Winnipeg, Hockey Winnipeg and the IcePlex (now hfac), Miller acutely understands the practice of rallying and organizing people and events. He believes his current compilation of volunteers will help steer the 2024 West Regional into another successful, Winnipeg-hosted event.
“We have a great crew of committed volunteers,” he says. “I’m just sort of the quarterback. The heavy lifting will be done by the sub-committees and their co-chairs.”
Miller says the goal is to put on a stellar event and the takeaway upon its conclusion is viewed as “next level.”
“I think Winnipeg is up to the challenge to have people walk away saying that was absolutely fantastic.”
The winner of the tournament will represent the West and combine with five other regional champions from across Canada along with a host team at the 2024 TELUS Cup in Cape Breton, NS., April 22-28.
The last time the West Regional was held in Winnipeg was in 2005 and the Wild lost in the final. They’re hoping to be less gracious hosts this time around.
“The thought was it was long overdue for Winnipeg to host it,” says Paul Krueger, who is in his 22nd season behind the U18 Wild bench.
“It’s a big event. It puts the spotlight on the hockey community in Winnipeg and it sheds some light on AAA hockey and the Manitoba provincial league, too. It’s a good representation of our programs here.”
Krueger’s team was an easy choice as Winnipeg’s host entrant, having advanced to the West Regional nine of the last 11 times, including the last two consecutive seasons.
Based on that history, Krueger knows that with success comes expectation and his team won’t be casually entering this season knowing they already have a secured spot in the tournament.
“We’re not approaching it any differently than we always have,” he says. “We want to make sure we’re going through the process that we’ve gone through the last number of years.
“The focus is to play well in our league, be competitive and be one of the teams that hopefully is there at the end. We want to make sure early on that the culture is set for all of that.”
For the players born between 2006-2008 fortunate enough to come to Winnipeg and compete in the tournament, Miller says the set-up will be professional in every aspect.
From NHL facilities to an awards banquet to each team receiving their own dressing room for the weekend, nothing will be overlooked in providing the best event possible to the participants next spring.
“There’s a lot of great ideas and ancillary things around the tournament that we’re looking at doing. Some of those still need to be flushed out as we proceed with pre-planning the event.”
Adds Krueger: “The little details that you can do for the players and the parents when they come here go a long way. We want to make it an experience for everyone.”
Another aspect of hosting a successful event is the economic impact it can provide the city and local business.
The West Regional will bring people to Winnipeg from both neighbouring provinces and with Manitoba having two entries, the other provincial team could be from the city or outside the Perimeter Highway.
That influx will provide a boon for hotels and restaurants and allow the area to promote itself on a larger stage, perhaps with an eye to putting on more showcases like it in the future.
“I hope these events become more of a regular item here,” says Krueger. “It’s not cheap to host an event like this. But if it’s done properly with enough community involvement and support, it can certainly be successful from a financial standpoint.”