Nanaimo gets big-game hockey

The Harbour City will host its biggest hockey tournament in 15 years when the Nanaimo Clippers take the ice for the Western Canada Cup.

Graham Calder

Graham Calder

If Nanaimo comes down with a case of playoff fever next spring, well, that can only be a good thing.

The Harbour City will host its biggest hockey tournament in 15 years when the Nanaimo Clippers and four other junior A teams take the ice for the 2013 Western Canada Cup.

“The hockey fans in the mid Island area are in for a treat next spring,” said Graham Calder, chairman of the tournament’s organizing committee.

It’s the first-ever Western Canada Cup, as the Canadian Junior Hockey League is changing its playoff format for next season. The B.C. Hockey League champions used to take on the Alberta champs for the right to advance to nationals, but now those teams, plus representatives from Saskatchewan and Manitoba and the host Clippers are all in the mix for one big 10-day showdown.

Calder recently travelled to Humboldt, Sask. to study the 2012 national junior A hockey championships there, and it made him even more excited about what’s in store for Nanaimo.

“The town of Humboldt really got behind its team and behind the tournament itself,” he said. “Hardly a store you went by or went into didn’t have some acknowledgement of the fact that there was an event of this magnitude going on in the city.”

He said businesses there snapped up 600 tournament ticket packages.

“And they had great corporate support in other ways; they had major sponsors step up to the table,” Calder said. “And that’s where we’re at right now in terms of our planning. We’ve been out meeting with potential partners.”

The Clippers have sold over 100 ticket packages for the WCC so far, and their target is somewhere in the 500-750 range.

“I guess my blue-sky objective would be 1,000 tournament packages sold,” Calder said. “That would put us on reasonably sound financial footing, coupled with the support of the partners.”

Whether they have their tickets in hand already, hockey fans will be coming to Nanaimo for those 10 days. At the 2010 nationals in Dauphin, Man., for example, 2,500 visitors attended games, booking 2,250 hotel rooms and spending upwards of $1 million on accommodations, game tickets, food and drinks.

Calder was impressed with Humboldt’s nightly entertainment during its tournament, and he has been meeting with the City of Nanaimo to book venues for similar social gatherings.

“We’re hoping that not only the business community but the citizens, the hockey fans of Nanaimo will get behind this event and support it by their presence at not only hockey games but some of these other events,” he said.

As for the main event, the hockey; it will be some of the best ever played in Nanaimo. Calder said the atmosphere in Humboldt’s 1,900-seat arena was incredible for the host Broncos’ games. A capacity crowd of 3,000 in Frank Crane Arena could be louder still.

Kelly Hrudey, part owner of the Clippers, said all the top junior A teams from Western Canada, playing for their playoff lives, will make for intense hockey.

“I think it’s going to attract so many people from around the Island, and they are going to be blown away by the hockey they are going to see,” he said.

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