After an ultra-successful Memorial Cup in Red Deer, Alberta, the Western Hockey League has a couple of years to determine where the 2020 tournament will be played.
The WHL’s turn was originally supposed to come up in 2019. But with the Memorial Cup Centennial taking place in 2018, the Canadian Hockey League has opened up bidding to all teams in its three leagues for that year.
With the Ontario Hockey League hosting in 2017 in Windsor, that means the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League’s turn has been pushed back to 2019, and the next WHL-hosted Memorial Cup (if it doesn’t get the 2018 tourney) will be in 2020.
So it will be a few years. But in that time, the league and its top brass will have to answer a couple of important questions.
Will they allow all interested cities who are interested in hosting to actually bid? Or will they prevent from even bidding a city that not only should be on the short list, but should be the top choice to host the 2020 Memorial Cup?
The city in question is Everett, home of the WHL’s Silvertips. It has everything the WHL and the Canadian Hockey League (the umbrella organization that oversees the WHL, Ontario Hockey League and Quebec Major Junior Hockey League) can ever hope for. With a recently-built downtown arena, a new headquarters hotel soon to be completed, plenty of space for all events connected with Cup Week, numerous hotels within a short distance from the arena, a large population base, rabid fans who love the ‘Tips and easy access for fans of numerous other WHL teams, Everett should be a no-brainer to host.
It’s also a market that has never hosted the Memorial Cup, a fact that we were reminded of constantly with Red Deer, which was the first Alberta city in 42 years to host the Memorial Cup tournament. Yes, Seattle hosted in 1992, but as many in Snohomish County will quickly tell you, Everett is nothing like Seattle.
On any level, Everett should be the leading candidate to host the 2020 Memorial Cup. Some might even call the city an obvious choice to host.
But there are obstacles that would prevent Everett from hosting. Those obstacles? The Western Hockey League, Commissioner Ron Robison and the league office.
While it’s never been officially stated, a belief among many fans of the WHL’s US Division teams is that the league either discourages, or outright forbids, any of the American clubs from bidding on the Memorial Cup. Everett, Portland, Spokane and Tri-City have all expressed interest in hosting the Cup in recent cycles, but they never even made the short list.
It’s not like any of the cities have hosted in recent years. Portland last hosted the Cup in 1986, while Seattle hosted in 1992 and Spokane in 1998. While once upon a time American teams were hosting on a semi-regular basis (mainly because the WHL/CHL knew big crowds were guaranteed), they aren’t even invited to the conversation anymore.
There are some issues with the cities. Spokane and the Chiefs may be seen as hosting too recently. The lack of a headquarters hotel and conference center in Kent, near the ShoWare Center, would hurt the Thunderbirds. Tri-Cities may be seen as a bit too remote and the state of the Toyota Center would be an issue. And, of course, the relationship between Robison/WHL and the Portland Winterhawks is probably best described as “chilly”. Everett has none of those issues.
Granted, part of the reason might be the CHL, who may worry about their sponsors. But since about half of the tournament sponsors are just Canadian subsidiaries of US-based companies (including MasterCard, which has its name on the tournament itself), that shouldn’t be a major issue. With the heavy TV exposure the tournament gets in Canada anyway, the sponsors will see their names mentioned many times.
Some of that sponsor worry might be with WHL officials, as well. But the league, while very aggressive in sponsor deals and promotions for its Canadian teams, rarely does the same for the five south of the border. Often, those teams are on their own with promotions and contests. If there’s a contest pushed by the WHL that allows residents of Washington and Oregon to be a part of it, it almost feels like a miracle.
But there’s also a sense that the WHL almost takes the 5 US teams for granted. When Robison ventures south of the border, there’s a feeling of, “Oh, hey, he remembers us!” The last time he acted like he cared about the teams was when he testified to the Washington Legislature that the league and its four teams in the state should be exempt from minimum wage laws (and threatened to move the teams if they had to pay the players a minimum wage).
If the WHL won’t let Everett bid, where would the 2020 Memorial Cup go? The favorite might be Victoria, where a newish arena and a British Columbia market that has never hosted may greatly tempt the league. It may also be a “thank you” for allowing the WHL to move the Chilliwack Bruins to Victoria, therefore beating the American Hockey League in putting a team in the BC capital.
If not Victoria, then the WHL might look at Kamloops, the host of the 1995 tourney. The city is used to hosting big events, including this year’s Women’s World Ice Hockey Championships. They could also consider Moose Jaw, now with its 4,500-seat Mosaic Place. If location compared to the rest of the league isn’t an issue, maybe Prince George and its 6,000-seat CN Centre may have a shot.
But none of those cities have what Everett has. Xfinity Arena is downtown, holds almost 9,000 for hockey and comes with a large conference center and a second rink attached. A new hotel, large enough to be a headquarters hotel for the Cup, will be finished a few blocks away from the arena by 2017. Numerous hotels are located a short distance from the arena, whether within walking distance or a short drive away (Lynnwood, Mukilteo, Tulalip, Marysville and other Everett neighborhoods). Downtown Everett has plenty of restaurants and shops to keep fans busy and full all week.
Everett is also the seat of Snohomish County, which has almost 800,000 residents. It’s also easy driving distance in a region that houses millions of residents along the Cascadia corridor from Portland to Vancouver, and is an easy drive from Spokane, Tri-Cities and Kelowna. A ferry ride connects Victoria and Vancouver Island fans to Anacortes or Tsawwassen, followed by an easy drive to Everett.
In short, there’s no legitimate reason the WHL should prevent Everett and the Silvertips from not just bidding on the 2020 Memorial Cup, but from hosting the tournament itself. If the city and team don’t even show up as a finalist, then the WHL’s entire bidding process should be seen as a sham.
Then again, that would require a belief that the Robison and the WHL actually cares about their US Division teams. This, to many fans of the five American teams, would be seen as a major stretch.
(Photo of Xfinity Arena from author’s Twitter page: @rmarcham)