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Deep pockets, big buildings needed for Canada's future world junior bidders

NHL.com @NHL

CALGARY - The Canadian cities intending to bid for the world junior hockey championship when it returns to this country will need large arenas and backers with deep pockets to win it.

Canadian cities hosted the tournament three of the last four years. The 2011 tournament in Buffalo, N.Y., drew thousands of southern Ontarians and was still in a North American time zone, so it felt like it never left Canada.

But the event is about to take a two-year hiatus from this side of the Atlantic. Ufa, Russia, gets the 2013 world championship and Sweden hosts the following year.

It comes back to Canada in 2015, 2017, 2019 and 2021. It's part of a deal Hockey Canada worked out with the International Ice Hockey Federation and approved at the IIHF's congress in 2009.

The IIHF will get a slice of Hockey Canada's profits from the tournaments starting in 2015.

The bidding process for 2015 will begin later this year, Hockey Canada president Bob Nicholson said. Given the national television exposure and the money the tournament generates when it is in Canada, he expects it to be in high demand.

"I think there's a lot of cities that think they're obvious candidates," Nicholson said.

"We've got to ensure we keep two or three things in the forefront, that it stays top calibre for all the teams and give them an experience they'll never forget and that means filled buildings. And to try to find ways to grow the game of hockey."

This year's tournament was a joint venture between Calgary and Edmonton, marking the first time the tournament was held in two NHL rinks. The bid was backed by the owners of the Flames and Oilers.

Alberta's bid included a profit guarantee of about $18 million, according to Lyle Best, who chaired the Edmonton end of the tournament. Best thinks that number will even higher for future tournaments in Canada.

"Knowing it's in Russia next year and Sweden the next year and it's not coming back until 2015, realistically, probably somewhere in the $20-million range," Best said. "With inflation and depending on where it's going to be, I would think that's a $20-million guarantee."

Hockey Canada receives 50 per cent of the profits, the Canadian Hockey League that supplies many of the players receives 30 per cent, and provincial minor hockey associations get 20 per cent.

The IIHF gets a percentage of Hockey Canada's portion, Nicholson said, and revenue won't just come the years Canada hosts the tournament. Hockey Canada has world-wide television rights to the tournament starting that year, Nicholson said.

"They'll be looking at a few million dollars each year, even in years that we don't host it because of potential other sponsors with it with TV rights," he explained.

"We really look forward to start giving those dollars to the IIHF. They're working on developing programs in developing nations."

The voracious demand for tickets in Canada means Hockey Canada can put the tournament in the biggest hockey rinks in the country and get sellouts.

So other than the NHL arenas in Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton, Winnipeg, Toronto, Montreal and Ottawa, the only other two with similar capacities are in Hamilton and Quebec City. So is an NHL rink, or one as big, a bid requirement?

"I hate to sit here and say 'yes, it has to be', but when you look at the demand for tickets, to go back to smaller rinks you're cutting out so many people," Nicholson said, adding that two NHL rinks this year allowed Hockey Canada to donate over 20,000 tickets to children.

"You can't do that if you're not in big rinks. Maybe they'll be big rinks that don't have NHL teams, I'm not sure. But for us to back into something smaller would be tough to do."

Nicholson doesn't rule out inter-provincial bids. For example, Manitoba and Saskatchewan could join forces with Winnipeg's MTS Centre as the main arena for one of the two pools and the medal round, with either Saskatoon or Regina hosting the other pool's games.

The tournament makes enough money now that organizers can charter planes to fly the teams between two distant centres.

"Now with us being able to have charters, it certainly opens up different provinces to come together which has never happened," Nicholson said.

"The other things we're seeing for the very first time at the men's worlds is two countries co-hosting. Could we ever do one in Canada and the U.S.?"

It's no secret Hockey Canada would love to put the tournament in the province of Quebec, where it hasn't been in more than 30 years. When may depend on when Quebec City gets a new arena.

A Quebec City-Montreal joint bid is attractive, although Montreal is thorny because the city can't seem to retain a major junior team in the metro area.

A Toronto bid is also likely. In addition to the Air Canada Centre and Copps Coliseum in Hamilton, there are several major junior rinks in the area that could serve as the secondary venue. Best says another Alberta bid could be coming for one of next four years that Canada gets it.

"We've never held this tournament in Quebec (City), so that certainly is on the radar," Nicholson said. "We've never held this in Toronto. It's been a long time since we were in Winnipeg. The venues are there for us to do it.

"We'll look at financially what works, but also what works to build the game of hockey."

Saskatoon and Regina co-hosted the 2010 championship and Ottawa the year before that. Vancouver and Kamloops and Kelowna, B.C., jointly held the 2006 world junior championship.

Before that, it was Halifax and Sydney, N.S., in 2003, Winnipeg in 1999, Red Deer, Alta., in 1995, Saskatoon again in 1991, Hamilton in 1986 and Montreal in 1978.

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