By Tina Comeau
Yarmouth set the bar so high in hosting last year’s World Junior A Challenge that it was stated the next host community of the event would have big shoes – or make that big skates – to fill.
Well, it’s Yarmouth’s time to shine once again because we are the community that will be following up our own hosting of the 2012 event when the 2013 version of the challenge returns to the Mariners Centre in November.
The official announcement was made at Friday night’s Mariners game to thunderous reaction from the crowd.
The tournament portion of the challenge will likely run Nov. 4-10, with pre-tournament exhibition games happening before that.
Aside from providing a week of international hockey action, the event is substantial in terms of its economic impact. Last year’s event is believed to have generated around $2 million in economic spinoff for the region. Events Nova Scotia expects to release a full study next week that will have more firm figures about what the economic impact was.
During the challenge local accommodations were filled with hockey players, coaches, team staff, scouts, player families, journalists, Hockey Canada staff, on-ice officials and other visitors. Restaurants who were awarded tenders for feeding the teams welcomed the added business.
And on it went.
This marks the first time since this international hockey tournament began in 2006 that a community hosts the event two years in a row. When Yarmouth first submitted a bid in 2011 to host the event, there was discussion then about the possibility of hosting it two years in a row. But it would have been a logistical challenge to pull it off in 2011 as the week-long tournament would have started the day after Yarmouth had finished hosting Nova Scotia Music Week (incidentally, an event Yarmouth hosted three consecutive years).
The 2011 World Junior A Challenge went to Langley, B.C. and Yarmouth was awarded the 2012 event.
Any doubt over whether Yarmouth could host the event two consecutive years was removed last November when the area exceeded all hosting expectations.
“We saw what Yarmouth could do and during the week, once we saw the crowds and people’s excitement, you sort of knew then that maybe there was an opportunity to do it the next year,” Riley Wiwchar, Hockey Canada’s manager of marketing services and events told the Vanguard in an interview on Thursday, prior to the official announcement.
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This isn’t to say that the challenge returning to Yarmouth was automatic. Hockey Canada received bids from communities in Ontario, Alberta and British Columbia to host this year’s event. But in the end Wiwchar said it made the most sense to come back to Yarmouth for a second year.
The news doesn’t come as a surprise considering the high praise Yarmouth received across the board during last year’s event.
“I’ve been to this event across the country, it’s been going on for a long time, and Yarmouth has set the bar to a level that is higher than any,” Hockey Canada chairman Mike Bruni told the Vanguard last November.
So does that mean there is no room for improvement?
While Wiwchar said Yarmouth, in Hockey Canada’s opinion, did everything right, he still says there is always room for improvements.
“For example one thing I’d like to improve on is the pageantry. I thought the rink looked fantastic and the community looked good but I think we do an even better job,” he said. “I think we can get more businesses involved, we can dress up the hotels more, we can do that type of stuff.”
Even more effort will go towards marketing of the event.
An event like this requires a large volunteer base and on that front Yarmouth will be building on its volunteer base from last year, which saw 188 volunteers take part in the running of the event. It’s expected the majority of these volunteers would be interested in participating in the event again this year. As part of the official announcement of the World Challenge return to Yarmouth, volunteers from last year’s event were recognized during a ceremony on the ice prior to the Yarmouth Mariners’ Feb. 1 game against the Amherst Ramblers.
Last year’s World Junior A Challenge included two teams from Canada and teams from the United States, Russia, Czech Republic and Switzerland. Whether it will be the all of the same teams this year is not yet known, Wiwchar said. In past years other countries that have participated have included Finland, Germany and Sweden.
As for when tickets will go on sale, Wiwchar said they might go on sale as early as the end of next week or very soon thereafter. The goal is within the next two to three weeks to start ticket sales. Like last year, full event ticket packages will be sold first.
TSN will again televise the gold medal game live, which last year was won by Team USA over Team Canada West. Other games throughout the week will be webcast by Fast Hockey.
Like last year, portions of the tournament will also branch out to neighbouring communities. Last year exhibition games and a CJHL prospect game were held in Liverpool, Barrington and Digby.
The organizing committee has been speaking with neighbouring communities about this year’s event. Digby, for instance, may host a pre-tournament exhibition game the weekend of Nov. 2 and 3, a CJHL prospects game during the week and maybe a tournament consolation game. Details of what games will be held outside of Yarmouth will continue to be sorted out.
Meanwhile, members of the organizing host committee in Yarmouth are thrilled that the event is coming back in November.
“It’s great, we’re ready, we’ve got the volunteer base,” said committee member Wayne Hamilton. “We’re just going to have fun.”
Yarmouth Mayor Pam Mood is equally thrilled.
“We’ve shown who we are as a community and what we offer and the fact that they’re coming back a second time speaks volumes,” she said. “It’s exciting. It’s an amazing way to bring the community together. It’s great for businesses.”
Mood said Yarmouth continues to demonstrate that it can be taken seriously when it comes to hosting large-scale events and things like the World Junior A Challenge position the area well to go after other big events. She says not only does Yarmouth have the physical infrastructure to offer, but also a population that is welcoming to visitors.
“We step up every single time something is put in front of us,” she said. “There is no doubt that when people come to Yarmouth we leave a lasting impression.”
For a look back at last year's World Junior A Challenge click here.