|Senators president Cyril Leeder displays a puck bearing the logo of the 2012 NHL All-Star Game, which was been awarded to the franchise and the city of Ottawa and will be played at Scotiabank Place for the first time (Photo by Andre Ringuette/Freestyle Photography/OSHC).
The National Hockey League's brightest stars are set to shine at Scotiabank Place.
NHL commissioner Gary Bettman announced this morning that the league has awarded its 2012 all-star game to the nation's capital. The game is set for Jan. 29, 2012, capping a four-day celebration in the city, and is being held in conjunction with the 20th anniversary of the Senators' return to the league in 1992.
Delivering the all-star game to Ottawa fulfilled one of the promises made by owner Eugene Melnyk when he bought the Senators franchise and the arena in 2003. Now, he said, "thanks to the support and endorsement of commissioner Bettman and the National Hockey League," the Senators can "give our fans and our city a special opportunity to host the NHL's top talent at the 2012 all-star weekend."
Melnyk went one step further, promising Bettman "that Ottawa will do a spectacular job in hosting the 2012 all-star weekend and we will show everyone why hockey is the greatest game in the world."
Senators players expressed enthusiasm for the arrival of the NHL's mid-season showcase event in their city.
"It's another way to showcase our city and how great a winter city that it is," said captain Daniel Alfredsson
, who's played in five previous NHL all-star games. "It's a big event for the hockey world. It's a weekend where you bring in all the best players in the world and showcase them. I believe it's something that this city will definitely make into a great event and also have a lot of fun with it. I believe it will be a great weekend and a lot of fun for everyone involved."
Added centre Jason Spezza
, a 2008 all-star game participant: "My initial thought was it would be great to play in an all-star game in your home city. It makes it even more special. You always want to play well enough to be a part of something like this."
In conjunction with Ottawa Tourism, the Senators submitted a bid for the 2012 all-star game back in February. Until now, the Senators were the only Canadian franchise that hadn't played host to the NHL's mid-season showcase event. Bettman called the Senators' presentation "a compelling bid" and added it was a strong show of support for the man who rescued the franchise from bankruptcy seven years ago.
"Seven years into the job and I'm still working on delivering those promises. And today, thanks to the support of commissioner (Gary) Bettman and the National Hockey League, I'm able to deliver on one of those promises by giving our fans and our city a special opportunity to host the NHL's top talent at the 2012 all-star weekend." - Gary Bettman
"Eugene Melnyk has been the stable, firm, guiding force of this franchise since he bought it in 2003," said Bettman. "He is a passionate, involved, knowledgeable owner. I believe the National Hockey League is fortunate to have him as one of our owners and we are grateful for all he does."
Also working strongly in the Senators' favour was the organization's track record in playing host to major hockey events, including the 2005 and 2008 NHL entry drafts, the 2007 Stanley Cup final and the 2009 IIHF World Junior Hockey Championship, which shattered all attendance records.
"We know Ottawa can do a terrific job of hosting events," said Bettman. "So we know that this venue and this great city are more than well equipped to handle this marquee event."
But all-star weekend, which includes a Saturday night skills competition and Sunday game, figures to extend its reach well beyond the walls of Scotiabank Place. The new Ottawa Convention Centre, set to open in the spring of 2011, will be the venue for Fan Fest, a celebration of the game that Senators president Cyril Leeder said features "everything hockey, from all the NHL trophies to interactive games to players to the latest technologies."
The Rideau Canal skateway will also be a centrepiece of all-star weekend, with a legends shinny game planned for the world's longest skating rink. Winterlude organizers are also moving up some activities to coincide with the all-star event.
Ottawa Tourism estimates the 2012 all-star weekend's festivities could pump more than $30 million worth of economic activity into the region, with more than 7,000 hotel rooms being booked for it on both sides of the Ottawa River.
"It's a major win for Ottawa-Gatineau and the Senators organization," said Leeder. "It speaks volumes about the infrastructure and facilities we now have in our community."
Asked what's next on his list of promises to fulfill, Melnyk smiled and said "that's the easiest question. Win the Stanley Cup. That's all we're working toward now."