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World women's tourney returns to Hockey Country

by Rob Brodie / Ottawa Senators
Hockey Canada president Bob Nicholson discusses the awarding of the 2013 IIHF World Women's Championship to Senators Sports & Entertainment, in a partnership with the Ottawa Women's Hockey Association (Photo by Ottawa Senators Hockey Club).

Hockey Country is eager and ready to welcome the world once again.

Senators Sports & Entertainment, in partnership with the Ontario Women's Hockey Association, has been chosen as the hosts for the 2013 IIHF World Women's Championship, it was announced by Hockey Canada at a press conference earlier today. The Senators outbid groups from Kamloops, B.C., and St. John's to bring the tournament back to the nation's capital for the first time since the inaugural event in 1990.

The tournament, set for April 2-9, 2013, will also be held in conjunction with the provincial women's championships, which annually involve 500 teams and 11,000 participants in a variety of age groups. It'll truly be a festival of women's hockey, which SSE president Cyril Leeder called "the fastest growing segment" of the game in Canada.

"We're pretty excited about this event," said Leeder. "It's an opportunity to bring the world women's championship to Ottawa, along with the provincial women's championships. Marrying those two events together will be pretty special for the community."

It's something the Senators pulled off with great success two years ago, when it integrated the Bell Capital Cup — the planet's premier minor hockey tournament — with the 2009 IIHF World Junior Championship, which shattered all records for attendance for that event. Hockey Canada surely had the WJC in mind when it considered the bids for the 2013 world women's event.

"Cyril Leeder and (Senators owner) Eugene Melnyk did a great job with the world juniors," said Hockey Canada president/CEO Bob Nicholson. "Then you add in the OWHA with (president) Fran Rider ... we've got a great group here that will really help grow the game.

"We had three great bids. It wasn't an easy process, but we certainly picked the best location. Ottawa deserves to have it for the second time."

Hockey Canada, and the female game in particular, have a natural fondness for the nation's capital, which played host to the inaugural women's world championship in 1990 at the Civic Centre. Team Canada is remembered almost as much for the pink jerseys its players wore as for the gold medal it delivered to the home fans.

The landscape has changed greatly in the years since then. Women's hockey has been a full-fledged Olympic sport since 1998 in Nagano, Japan. The Ottawa worlds in 2013, which will provide an appropriate springboard to the 2014 Sochi Winter Games, won't need Canadian players in pink to draw attention to the spectacle on the ice.

Senators Sports & Entertainment Cyril Leeder speaks about the 2013 IIHF World Women's Hockey Championship, which is coming to Scotiabank Place and Nepean Sportsplex. Dates for the event are April 2-9, 2013 (Ottawa Senators Hockey Club photo).
"The players have just gotten so much better and the competition is better around the world," said Nicholson, who also made it clear that Canada's jerseys in 2013 won't be pink. "(The year) 1990 is very special in the history books, but 2013 will be really exciting to be back in Ottawa for the second time for the final preparation for the 2014 Olympics."

As the announcement was being made, three rows of beaming Ottawa girls hockey players sat at the back of the Scotiabank Place media centre, all of them no doubt dreaming of wearing the red maple leaf in their hometown in two years' time.

"Women's hockey is one of the most exciting and fastest growing dimensions to the game," Melnyk said in a statement. "We look forward to using this world-class event to inspire young Canadian girls right across the country to play the game and dream big."

Said Rider: “We’ve built from that 1990 event when the team wore pink and certainly the general public was wondering about this phenomena of women’s hockey. This truly will be a celebration. This is going to be the event of the century.”

A new format is being introduced at the women's worlds, which includes seeded pools and the top teams — including dominant powers Canada and the United States — facing each other more often. In all, 21 tournament games are slated for Scotiabank Place and the Nepean Sportsplex, with the hope of attracting 200,000 specatators. The tournament attendance record, set in 2007 in Winnipeg, sits at 122,152.

The women's worlds have been held in Canada five times previously, with the host side striking gold on each occasion. In all, Canada has won the tournament nine times, but the United States has been golden at four of the previous five women's worlds, including the last three in succession.

Ottawa is the first Canadian city to welcome the tournament twice. It's the latest initiative in the Senators' drive to grow the game in Hockey Country.

"These are opportunities to really celebrate the game and shine the spotlight on it," said Leeder. "What we’re really hoping to do is a couple of things. One is to keep interest high in hockey and get more people playing and participating in it. If more girls participate in hockey, we think that’s a good thing.

"Between the world championship and the provincial championships, it’s a $35-million economic benefit. That’s a huge windfall for the community and that helps everybody."

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