“Exceeding all expectations.”
That’s what the first few days of the RBC Cup — Canada’s junior A hockey championship tournament, hosted in Humboldt May 5-13 — have been like.
“That’s probably what I’d have to say, in terms of attendance at the hockey games, as well as other events,” said Kevin Dow, the Humboldt RBC Cup committee co-chair on May 7.
About 800 attended the opening ceremonies, held May 4, which made the organizing committee “extremely happy,” Dow said.
At the ceremonies, the crowd watched as the Penticton Vees, Soo Thunderbirds, and Woodstock Slammers walked onto the ice, led by local minor hockey players. The Portage Terriers, who had played in the last games of the ANAVET series in Humboldt just a week before, didn’t make it to the opening, as they played their first game Sunday.
Before the present Humboldt Broncos team walked out, alumni teams from 2003 and 2008, led by respective captains Matt Brown and Russell Nielsen, took to the ice once more. Names like Schindel, Klimosko, Piller and Schroeder — familiar names to a huge number of Humboldt fans — decorated the backs of their jerseys.
The 2012 version of the team walked out to huge applause, and after hearing “O Canada” sung by local Grade 6 students, pyrotechnics streamed from the roof of the arena.
After an introduction of the dignitaries, including Humboldt’s own Elgar Petersen, who has been involved with the Humboldt Broncos from the beginning over 40 years ago, it was time for speeches.
Each speech given welcomed visitors, and commended the volunteers involved in making the RBC Cup in Humboldt possible.
“It’s great to be here to help kick off this event in what I believe is the best junior hockey town in all of Canada,” said MLA Donna Harpauer. “I know it is going to be absolutely awesome.”
There’s a real hum in Humboldt these days, due to the expansion and growth in the area, noted city councillor Gord Lees. And now, there’s an even louder hum, “and it’s all about the excitement.... we have hosting the RBC Cup.”
Humboldt’s campaign to be named Kraft Hockeyville in 2009 is what led to the city hosting this event, Lees added.
“Though we didn’t win, it formed the basis for us making a successful bid,” he said.
Lees congratulated all the teams for making it to the tournament.
“You guys are all champions,” he said.
Between the five teams, they have a combined regular season record of 235 wins and a mere 49 losses, he pointed out.
“You can be rest assured, the hockey will be great... For the next eight days, it’s hockey night in Humboldt. Go Broncos,” he concluded.
Bill Chow, president of the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League, invited all those here for the RBC Cup to help celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Saskatchewan Hockey Association (SHA) during this time.
“Enjoy the festivities and fun in Humboldt and good luck to all the teams,” he said.
Dow, in his speech, encouraged visitors to check out all there is to see and do in Humboldt while in the area. He also congratulated the teams.
“To just get here is a great thing you’ve done,” he said.
The ceremonies concluded after a visit to Coaches Corner — a skit performed by local actors Lambert Stumborg and Casey Smit, who played Don Cherry and Ron MacLean.
The two welcomed the teams to “Humboldt... hockey heaven” and told them to enjoy their week.
“It’s gonna be great,” Stumborg said.
The opening ceremonies started a buzz in the community, Dow feels.
“I think they really started things off on the right foot in terms of the atmosphere we’re trying to create,” he stated.
After the ceremonies, a good number of people moved over to the Humboldt Curling Club, renamed the Potash Corp Event centre, for the opening night cabaret, featuring country singer Codie Prevost.
“There were probably about 500 there, or close to it,” Dow reported.
There were, he added, some people there just for the entertainment — non-hockey fans.
“That’s fantastic. That exactly what we were trying to accomplish (with the cabarets and events in the event centre),” Dow said.
Rain on Saturday and Sunday may have muddied the parking lots around the Uniplex, but it helped get people out of the fields and into seats in the arena, Dow believes.
The first game of the tournament between the Soo Thunderbirds and Penticton Vees, which the Soo won 2-1, attracted a crowd of 1,486 people, and that night’s game between the Humboldt Broncos and the Woodstock Slammers (Humboldt won 4-1), brought in 1,764 people.
There was also a good crowd of about 600 at the cabaret that night, Dow noted, with many moseying over after the game, and a lot of out-of-town guests staying around to dance into the night.
“They had a good time,” he said.
Day two, when it was really pouring outside, over 1,500 people attended a nailbiter of an afternoon game between the Soo and the Portage Terriers. The game went into double overtime, with the Terriers finally pulling out a 4-3 win with a goal at 19:12 of the fifth period.
That evening’s game between the Humboldt Broncos and the Penticton Vees, was pushed back to start at 8 p.m., due to the length of the afternoon game.
That game went into overtime as well, though just five minutes in, the Broncos scored their third and winning goal.
That game actually sold out, Dow said —1,825 people were there.
All the people and the nine periods of hockey did take its toll on the ice, he admitted.
“The biggest challenge we’re faced with is ice quality,” Dow said.
Sunday was definitely challenging, he added, with all the heat in the building and the humidity from the rain outside making it sticky at times.
To ensure the ice was as good as it could be for the evening game, they added four extra minutes to each intermission, to give the ice time to harden a little more, Dow said.
That kept the quality up to a reasonable level, he felt.
They have brought in dehumidifiers, he noted, to help keep the ice frozen. They’ve had some feedback from fans complaining about the cold air blowing in the rink, “but we have to do it to keep it as cool as possible,” Dow said. “We’re trying to keep the best ice possible.”
The staff at the Elgar Petersen Arena is doing a great job of trying to keep the ice frozen, Dow said. They are doing extra floods and are keeping the facility cold at night to get the ice thicker, and thinning out the floods during the day.
After that long second day of hockey, the ice got a break as a Hot Stove was hosted in the event centre, featuring Murray Brookbank, one of the Broncos’ assistant coaches, his son Sheldon, an NHL player with the Anaheim Ducks, NHLer Brad Lauer, who hails from Humboldt, and the voice of the Winnipeg Jets, Brian Munz, another Humboldt native.
“That was really great. We’re going to do that after all the evening games,” Dow noted.
Feedback from the teams has been good, Dow noted.
“They focused on playing, but what we’re hearing back is they are extremely happy with their accommodations and hospitality,” he said. “We’ve been as accommodating as possible to make sure they are set up and as comfortable as possible.
Feedback from fans and others has also been positive, for the most part.
“Obviously, there are little issues,” he said, “but we’ve got great people in every kind of area. Volunteers are bending over backwards (and) we’re hearing good things from teams and visitors about how they are being treated.”
Anecdotally, Dow has heard of businesses, especially local restaurants, benefiting from the teams and fans in town for the tournament already.
“We’re delivering on our promise to bring people to town and drive economic activity,” he said.