By Tom Hunter (@)
Let’s get this out of the way – I’m biased
I am an Oshawa Generals fan. My father and I have been season ticket holders for the past 5 years and while I’m not a lifelong Gennie’s fan, they have been my team ever since Eugene Melnyk destroyed the St. Michael’s Majors.
With that said, my bias shouldn’t take away from the fact that Oshawa is simply the most logical host for the 100th Memorial Cup in May of 2018.
On Monday, the Canadian Hockey League announced the three organizations will have the opportunity to make formal bid presentations to host the 2018 Mastercard Memorial Cup.
The OHL’s Hamilton Bulldogs, Oshawa Generals, and the WHL’s Regina Pats have been named the candidates that have advanced to the final stage of the bid process.
The final list was a bit of a surprise for some who follow the CHL. It was believed that both Ottawa and Kitchener were going to submit bids – and if either had, they would have likely been the favorite to host.
The final bids will be heard over the next few months with a host being named in February.
The Site Selection Committee is comprised of five leaders in the sports industry including Paul Beeston (Former Toronto Blue Jays President & CEO), Colin Campbell (NHL Executive Vice President & Director of Hockey Operations), Jim Gregory (NHL Senior Vice President of Hockey Operations), Gord Kirke (OHL Legal Counsel), and Scott Moore (President, Sportsnet & NHL Properties).
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Of the three, Oshawa is the smallest city – but anyone who knows the area knows that the population number is misleading. Downtown Oshawa is easily accessible through an easy drive from anyone in the Durham region and is a simple train ride away for most of the Greater Toronto Area. The proximity to the Centre of the Hockey Universe will be a key selling point for the selection committee.
Oshawa has the smallest building of the three – which will likely be a negative for their bid. Despite the smaller building, the Generals have the highest average attendance of the teams involved. While Oshawa’s capacity is slightly lower than the Brandt Centre in Regina, those who were around for the 2015 Memorial Cup know that the capacity can be stretched for the playoffs through adding more standing-room seats and selling tickets along the windows of the in-arena pub.
A big positive for Oshawa is that the Tribute Communities Centre – formerly the General Motors Centre – is significantly newer than the other two. Opening in 2006, the building is in Oshawa is as up to date as just about any in the OHL, especially after adding a brand new state of the art scoreboard for this season.
Many believe that Regina is the front-runner to be selected as the host city – especially after the 99th Memorial Cup will be in Windsor this season. The CHL normally rotates the tournament between the three league. Next year would actually be the QMJHL’s turn but since there isn’t a bid from Quebec, that leaves Regina as the only option if the selection committee doesn’t want an OHL host in back-to-back years.
Regina has hosted the Memorial Cup once before – in 2001 – and by all accounts did a very good job. It’s often believed that junior hockey in Canada is better represented by markets smaller than the GTA, and if the selection committee believes so, the tournament is Regina’s to lose.
The Saskatchewan capital doesn’t have close to the same population base to draw from but if we’ve learned anything from Roger’s Hometown Hockey, it’s that the media mogul (who own the TV rights) loves to show off ‘Canadiana’ – and some believe Regina would be the spot for that.
Of the three this one makes the least sense to me – as well as fellow OHL lover Adam (@) from Pension Plan Puppets.
Hamilton is a brand new team, playing in an oversized, out of date arena and they simply don’t draw the fans the way the other two teams do. Add the fact that this year’s tournament will be held in Windsor and Hamilton just seems like it shouldn’t be in consideration.
So why are they? As with Oshawa, the Hamilton bid will be based around drawing on the GTA population. FirstOntario Centre – formerly Copps Coliseum – is almost an identical distance from the downtown Toronto as the arena in Oshawa. The difference is that Oshawa has an established fan base in the east end of the city that is far more entrenched in the community than the brand new franchise in Hamilton.
Then there’s the arena. There is the very distinct possibility that the selection committee gets blinded by an NHL-sized arena. They would have to ask themselves – how many tickets can we sell? If we use the 2015 Memorial Cup at the Videotron Centre in Quebec as a baseline, you’re not likely to see anything close to sellouts in Hamilton – the Quebec Memorial Cup averaged a little more than 8,000 spectators over the nine-game tournament.
Do they really want to play this historic tournament in an arena that’s 60% empty?
When judging the bids for the Memorial Cup, the selection committee will always take into account the likelihood that the host team will be one of the top teams in their league. The last thing they want is for the host to be embarrassed by much stronger league champions. In an ideal world, the host would win their league and the fourth team in the tournament would be the runner-up.
With that said, all three teams on the list look well positioned to be at the top of their respective leagues next season.
In 2015 the Oshawa Generals won their fifth Memorial Cup – more than any other existing Canadian Hockey League franchise. To add to the wins, the team’s 12 tournament appearances puts them second behind only Regina.
It looked like the team had mortgaged the future in 2014-15 when they stocked up on high-end veterans and the fans in Oshawa were in for some down years. After one year of a rebuild, the team is already back up at the top of the standings. They currently sit four points up on second place in the East and have come back far quicker than many expected.
This isn’t a veteran team either. The Generals are likely to lose their captain and leading scorer Anthony Cirelli next season, and it looks like Mitch Vande Somple won’t be back, but other than that the core of Commisso, Henderson, Stillman, Hueter and Studnika will likely all return. Add to that a very young Danil Antropov and the Generals could very likely be better next year.
The question mark will be in net. Starter Jeremy Brodeur won’t be back, but his backup is 17-year old Kyle Keyser – 2017 draft eligible from Coral Springs Florida. Many believe Keyser has high-end potential and that the departure of Brodeur won’t hurt very much – if at all.
The Regina Pats are second behind the Generals with four Memorial Cup wins and the franchise has more appearances in the tournament than any other.
Regina is currently in first place in the Eastern Conference of the WHL. The team is led by Ducks prospect Sam Steel and overager Adam Brooks. Brooks won’t be back and other top players like Connor Hobbs and Filip Ahn will be AHL eligible so could be gone as well.
The Pats are a slightly older team then Oshawa with an average age of 18 – Oshawa’s is just over 17.5 – but Steel will be back as well as this year’s starting goalie Jordan Hollett.
The Pats are lead by former NHL head coach John Paddock and are positioning themselves as a powerhouse in the WHL, something that would look good to the selection committee.
Hamilton is a team started the season looking like a team positioning themselves to contend in 2017-18. Then the went out and traded for Will Bitten, drastically improving their roster for this season. If he doesn’t make Montreal next season – I’d put the odds at 50/50 – Bitten has the potential to be the best player in the OHL next year. He could put up Mitch Marner like numbers for Hamilton.
Sitting in second behind Oshawa, Hamilton is led by a number of draft eligible players. Matthew Strome, Morgan Entwistle and Marian Studenic are all in top-6 in team scoring.
Goaltender Kaden Fulcher is nothing more than an average OHL goaltender – at best- but when a team has the kind of firepower Hamilton will next season, it’s very likely they will go out and buy a veteran netminder fro a rebuilding team.
When David Branch announced the shortlist for the 100th Memorial Cup, he made a point to emphasize the historical significance of the event:
“The Canadian Hockey League’s mission for the historic 100th presentation of the Memorial Cup is to capture, preserve, and enhance the legacy of one of the most prestigious trophies in all of sport.”
If that’s the case, then Oshawa is the only logical choice.
The Generals have won the trophy more than any other CHL team in history, they are the OHL’s oldest franchise, and they haven’t hosted the Memorial Cup tournament since 1987.
The Generals can create fanfare by involving some of the biggest names in hockey. Bobby Orr, Eric Lindros and John Tavares have already been part of Generals game festivities this season and those are three giant names from three different generations that would be attached to any Memorial Cup week the Generals host.
It wouldn’t just be Generals fans. Being in the GTA, the tournament would be open to appearances from past Memorial Cup stars like Mitch Marner, Taylor Hall, Corey Perry and Darcy Tucker.
They have the arena, they have the fan base, and they have the attendance history to make a tournament a huge success.
Add to that the fact that Oshawa is a part of the biggest television market in Canada and consistently sits third in the OHL in attendance and you’ve got a recipe for success that you won’t find anywhere else.
The 100th Memorial Cup belongs in Oshawa, let’s just hope the selection committee sees it.