Western Canada Cup coming to Estevan

Co-chairs for 2016 event are Warren Waldegger, Ron Areshenkoff, Ray Frehlick and Barry Bridges

It has long been rumoured, and on Tuesday it became reality.

The Estevan Bruins and the City of Estevan will host the 2016 Western Canada Cup, it was announced at Affinity Place.

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The tournament features the champions of the four Western Canadian Junior A leagues, as well as the hosts, meaning the Bruins will have an automatic berth.

That is a considerable opportunity for the Black and Gold, as the top two teams in the WCC qualify for the RBC Cup, the national championship of Junior A hockey.

Bruins head coach and general manager Chris Lewgood said the tournament will benefit both the club and the city.

"It's huge. I think to host a tournament of this magnitude is something new to Estevan and to the Bruins, and I think it goes along with some of the things we've been saying all along. It's a fork in the road for the program. Better days are ahead and we're really excited for the future."

On Tuesday, the four co-chairs of the tournament committee were announced: Ron Areshenkoff, Ray Frehlick, Barry Bridges and Warren Waldegger, who is the treasurer.

Bruins president Cory Prokop said it was important to get community leaders involved.

"Early on in the process, one of the first things we did was approach some of the key individuals in our community and get their opinions on how this would play out. 

"The four individuals that we have (co-chairing the tournament) are some of the key leaders in the community. I think to ensure that we had that community support moving forward, it was invaluable for the team to have them on board right off the start," said Prokop, adding that initial discussions among the team executive took place at least a year ago.

Prokop also told the Mercury that the tournament will have a major impact on the city, financially and in terms of community pride.

"That's the No. 1 reason we got the group together and really put a good effort into trying to attract this event. It's a really good way to showcase our community and the entire region here in the southeast. Outside of the concerts and the MMA events, we haven't really hosted a big event like this yet. It's an opportunity to showcase the facility that we, as a community, worked so hard to put in place. 

"It'll be an opportunity for a large number of guests to be present in Estevan from all across the western provinces, cheering on their teams. The hotels should be full and I imagine the restaurants will be busy and merchants will be busy as well. I think it's going to be a feather in the cap of the hockey club too. It's been a number of years since we've played in a Royal Bank Cup or a larger scale tournament like this."

Prokop added that he hopes hosting the WCC will put the Bruins in the mix the next time Saskatchewan hosts the RBC Cup.

The Yorkton Terriers and Melville Millionaires had also spent considerable time putting together a bid for the event. The Terriers pulled out just before the application deadline, and the Millionaires, as first reported by the Mercury in early September, withdrew their bid after the deadline. Both clubs cited financial concerns, referring to the fact that the committee running the tournament in Dauphin this year lost money despite having a break-even budget.

The Bruins also have a break-even budget of about $750,000, although they are hoping to make a small profit. Their budget includes some legacy items for the community, including a monument near Affinity Place that will be built in partnership with the local Rotary Club and the 2016 Summer Games committee.

In an interview with the Mercury, Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League president Bill Chow said he believes Estevan can make money on the event.

"I think so. I think everybody does things differently. No slight to Nanaimo or Dauphin in them hosting the WCC. I think I saw Nanaimo showed a bit of a profit (in 2013) and Dauphin obviously didn't. That being said, there's lessons learned. As long as the corporate support is there for Estevan, I think that'll really ensure that the event is a financial success, as well as a success on the ice."

Waldegger said there is still a lot of work to do on the financial end of things.

"We're still working through all the final budgets. There was a budget put into the bid package but it's still a fairly preliminary budget. A lot of the expenses come in terms of team travel and hosting these teams, to bring them in for the 10 days and put them up in hotels.

"I think there's always concerns going into these things, but I think we have the right group of people at the table to enlist the support of our business community leaders in the city," Waldegger continued. "We're going to do everything in our power to make sure the tournament goes off without a hitch and there's going to be hopefully a legacy at the end of it for both the Bruins and the Summer Games committee."

Any profits made from the event will be shared between the Bruins and the Games committee.

The host committees for the two events will be working together to make 2016 a memorable year. They are planning to share the same volunteer base. Waldegger said the city will be able to pull off two major events in the same year.

"Estevan's community pride will prevail and the energy of these events will be contagious. We're going to work closely with the Summer Games committee to really build that atmosphere going into 2016."

Areshenkoff said the committee is determined to balance the budget.

"We are committed to showcasing a well-organized, entertaining and fiscally responsible event that the City of Estevan can be proud of."

He said the three immediate priorities are to, "Develop the tournament organizational chart and recruit a team leader for each sub-committee; develop processes that ensure the financial accountability of the event … (and) solicit corporate sponsorship and support. In order to ensure the financial success of this event, we need to attract support from the business community through sponsorship and advertising packages." 

Sponsorship packages are expected to be available in early 2015.

Chow said the arena, corporate support, the local economy and the large volunteer base were key factors in granting the tournament to Estevan.

He added it's a boon to the league to host the Western Canada Cup in a prized facility like Affinity Place.

"From a league perspective, I think it's a number of things. Obviously it's one of our newer buildings, so we can boast we have a building like this for players to play in, whether it's in Estevan or playing for a team against Estevan. They've set the benchmark for facilities for Junior A hockey in Saskatchewan, anyway. Are the other 11 franchises going to get there? Probably not, but I think there are some that are thinking of ways to improve their facilities to be comparable, to also make it attractive for players to come play there," said Chow, who was not able to attend Tuesday's announcement because he is recovering from a recent surgery.

Despite the Bruins' bid being the only one for the governors to look at in the end, Chow said there could have been a situation where if the bid wasn't deemed up to par, the governors could have rejected it and opened up the bidding to everyone again.

However, the president noted there was never a danger of that happening, as the Bruins' bid impressed the group.

The people involved in putting the bid together were Prokop, Lewgood, then-vice president Chad Saxon and treasurer Brant Kersey.

Waldegger said the event is in the very early planning stages.

"It's early days. We've just (found out) now that we've got the bid, so a lot of the formal planning hasn't really taken place yet. We're just getting into that. Over the next little while we're going to be understanding and filling out our volunteer requirements and knowing exactly what we're going to need. The next, I would say, six to 12 months are really more about planning."

The committee has signed commitments from local hotels to make rooms available. Prokop noted that the time of year will also help, as road bans will be on and hotels will be less busy.

Lewgood said the organization has been building toward hosting the tournament, personnel-wise, for awhile.

"We've been gearing up for this for some time. I think the knowledge of the event may go a long way in explaining some of the patience we've had with young guys, rather than bringing in some older players to fill some holes. I think the core we have here is going to go a long way to set the benchmark for the types of players we're going to be using going forward and having in the lineup next season."

He added that while players on this year's team will form most of the core of their WCC-host roster, there will also be some key additions next year.

"We plan on bringing in some other high profile players to work alongside the core that we're so excited about. We're committed to doing so both through free agency and if that doesn't work, we'll make the necessary trades and acquisitions. We've dedicated significant resources into our scouting locally and abroad in anticipation of this event, and we're quite confident it will pay off heading into the 2015-16 regular season."

Waldegger jokingly pointed out that the heat is now on the Bruins' executive and coaching staff to put together a team that can win next season.

"I'm excited about the event, to watch some of the best junior hockey in Canada. I'm excited to put the pressure on Cory and Chris to provide a competitive team in the Estevan Bruins that's going to compete in this event. I think it's something myself and my children and the folks of Estevan are going to remember for a long time."

The Mercury was the first media outlet to report plans for a new Western Canadian championship on Oct. 19, 2011. On Jan. 16, 2012, Hockey Canada announced the creation of the tournament and that the first edition would be hosted by the Nanaimo Clippers a year later.

The WCC will be hosted by the Fort McMurray Oil Barons in 2015.

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