MONTREAL - The Memorial Cup is going to Rimouski in 2009.
The Eastern Quebec city where Sidney Crosby, Vincent Lacavalier and Brad Richards once played was announced on Thursday as host of the annual tournament between the champions of Canada's three major junior leagues.
"Our fans in Rimouski have been incredible for 12 years and this is the best gift we could give them - the Memorial Cup," said Camille LeBlanc, governor of the Rimouski Oceanic.
It beat out bids from Halifax, Chicoutimi, Shawinigan and Lewiston, Maine, all larger centres than Rimouski, which has about 42,000 people. Last year's tournament was at the Pacific Coliseum in Vancouver while the 2008 event next month is in Kitchener, Ont.
But thanks to stars like Crosby and Lecavalier, Rimouski has packed standing room only crowds averaging 4,448 per game into their 4,300-seat Colisee since they entered the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League in 1995-96.
"It's small, but we did our homework, we have wonderful sponsors and it will be a success," added LeBlanc. "For the city, it's a great publicity campaign.
"For the next two years people will be talking about Rimouski. The Memorial Cup is like the Grey Cup - it's a big thing across Canada."
The host city alternates from year to year between the QMJHL, the Ontario Hockey League and the Western Hockey League.
While the trend in recent years has been to hold the tournament in larger cities with bigger rinks, Quebec league commissioner Gilles Courteau was happy with the selection committee's choice.
"It was important for us as a league to show that it was possible to hold a Memorial Cup in a smaller building," he said. "I give the example of Guelph in 2002.
"It was about a 4,500-seat building and it was very successful, so I recommended to our teams to put bids forward. All five bids were very professional. The decision of the selection committee wasn't easy."
Halifax played host to the event in 2000, when a Rimouski team led by Richards won, while Shawinigan was host in 1985.
Bernard Lord, the former premier of New Brunswick, headed the selection committee, which included former NHL defenceman Stephane Quintal.
Lord said the size of the city and the rink was only one factor among many that were considered.
"In some elements, other bids were stronger, but in the end, we went through the whole thing and felt the best overall bid was Rimouski," said Lord. "If the only selection criteria was the arena in place now, everyone understands that Halifax is a cut above the rest.
"It sends a message that not only the large cities like Halifax, Quebec, Moncton or Portland will be able to host a Memorial Cup, but the smaller centres as well. If they have a strong organization, a good hockey team and the support of the community, then they also can host a Memorial Cup."
The league also held a lottery to determine which team will get first pick in the draft June 4-7 in Cape Breton, N.S. The winner was the Moncton Wildcats.