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Race is on in Canada to host 2010 and 2012 world junior hockey championship

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CALGARY - A two-for-one deal is available for cities wanting to host a world junior hockey championship.

Hockey Canada fired the starter's pistol Monday for the race to host the 2010 or 2012 IIHF world under-20 men's hockey tournament. Cities can double their chances by bidding for both at the same time to see which one they get. The winners will be chosen next July.

Canada is in the unique position of hosting the tournament three times in four years starting with Ottawa in 2009. The U.S. gets it in 2011.

The 2008 tournament opens Dec. 26 in the Czech Republic.

When the tournament is held in Canada, it sets attendance, television ratings and profit records, which is why it is such a coveted event here and why the International Ice Hockey Federation likes to give it to Canada.

Ottawa's profit guarantee of $12.5 million and predicted ticket sales of 450,000 helped the country's capital gain the 2009 tournament.

While it was early for any groups to officially throw their hats into the ring Monday, joint bids from Edmonton-Calgary and Saskatoon-Regina, and a pitch by Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment in Toronto are possibilities.

Those three groups, along with the Montreal Canadiens, were on the short list for 2009.

"It's really a matter of looking at the bid documents again and evaluating whether we will go or not, but my initial response is, yeah, we're interested," MLSE general manager Bob Hunter said Monday from Toronto.

"We really took the whole process on last time. What I'd like to suggest is we have a much bigger partnership with the city on it. This is a big community event so we see the city, as well as the province, as being big partners in the undertaking."

The Edmonton Oilers and Calgary Flames each have both an NHL and junior club in their arenas, so they'd need each other's buildings to accommodate world junior games, Oilers president Patrick Laforge said.

"There's a lot of work before you enter this, but for sure, we're interested," Laforge said from Edmonton. "The attraction simply is, the level of excitement it brings to the local fans. They love hockey, they see this as an Olympic-level type event and it brings them great satisfaction.

"It would be a sellout in Alberta, as long as the pricing is OK."

Saskatoon was a host city of the tournament in 1991.

"I'd be surprised if there wasn't some interest here," said Joe Bloski, who co-chaired a bid for the 2008 world championship that went to Halifax and Quebec City.

"If there was to be a bid coming out of our province it would have to be a Saskatchewan event. It would have to be an alliance between Regina and Saskatoon."

Letters of intent to bid must be in to Hockey Canada by Feb. 1. A short-list will be chosen May 1 and those finalists will make presentations to the selection committee in June.

"Groups can either bid for one or the other, or both," said Scott Farley, Hockey Canada's director of marketing and events. "We recognize going through these bid processes is an expensive proposition from a dollars and time standpoint, which is why we put the two together."

The selection committee includes Hockey Canada president Bob Nicholson, chairman Allan Morris, chief operating officer Scott Smith and Farley, as well as Canadian Hockey League president David Branch.

Canada has hosted the tournament seven times with stops in Vancouver (2006), Halifax (2003), Winnipeg (1999), Red Deer, Alta., (1995), Saskatoon (1991), Hamilton (1986) and Montreal (1978).

The tournament has become bigger and more profitable each time it has been held in Canada over the last decade.

Ottawa's profit guarantee is over twice the $5.2 million Vancouver offered in its bid for the 2006 tournament, although the actual profit there ended up closer to $9 million.

About 400,000 tickets were sold for the 2006 tournament, which also held games in Kamloops and Kelowna, B.C.

Hockey Canada gets 50 per cent of the profits from the tournament in Canada, the Canadian Hockey League 35 per cent and the provincial amateur hockey association of the host city or cities get the remaining 15 per cent.

Cities with NHL teams have the advantage of big buildings and a large corporate base from which to draw sponsorship money, but it is the smaller communities with major junior teams that supply players to a Canadian team that has won three straight gold medals.

Canada was on a schedule to get the tournament every three years, so the bonus tournament in 2010 could encourage the smaller centres to make a pitch for it.

"That's one of our hopes, that it lends itself to doing that," Farley said. "Winnipeg, Saskatoon and Red Deer are the ones that grew the event to where it is now.

"Finances are important, but they're not the only thing."

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