STORY BY: David Willberg/Estevan Mercury
After more than a year of speculation, it’s official: the 2022 Centennial Cup national junior A hockey championship, presented by Tim Hortons, is staying in Estevan.
Hockey Canada announced May 18 that the Estevan Bruins would indeed be the host team for the five-team showcase.
Greg Hoffort and Cory Prokop, the co-chairs of the 2022 tournament committee, said they were confident, and it’s a relief that they know and they can finally start planning.
“You don’t want to put a whole lot of planning and structure in place in case it doesn’t go through, and so I think the fact that they’ve confirmed now gives us … (the chance) to get the organizational structure in place, and get down to some serious planning,” Hoffort told the Mercury.
Prokop added they didn’t want to spend too much time planning, have the event taken away and then start planning for a different year.
“It’s more of a relief from the standpoint that we can now get going with the planning because it’s now a year away, and we have a lot of work to go,” said Hoffort.
Estevan initially submitted a bid to host the 2021 tournament, and made it to a three-team short-list with Penticton and Salmon Arm, B.C. Estevan and Penticton finished in a dead heat for 2021, so Penticton was granted the 2021 event and Estevan was awarded the 2022 tournament.
With the cancellations of nationals in 2020 and 2021, there was discussion whether Hockey Canada would push everything back a year or two, or if Estevan would host in 2022 and then Hockey Canada would decide future years.
Penticton still wanted to host in 2022, but Hoffort said Portage was out for next year.
“We sent them some supporting documents as to why we thought it was still appropriate (for Estevan to host), and the significant city and community support that we had, and so we re-fortified our bid a little bit to say keep us on ’22,” said Hoffort.
Prokop praised Hoffort for keeping the lines of communication open with Hockey Canada, so that they knew Estevan was still keen to host the tournament.
Hoffort pointed out there was more lobbying during the initial selection process for the 2021 tournament, than for this time around.
“We kept them knowing the whole time as we were waiting, to make sure we were going to keep our spot. We worked with them, let them know that we hadn’t lost any interest, that the community support and the team and everything else was being built for 2022,” said Hoffort.
The 2022 tournament will be held from May 20-29.
The process will now begin of piecing together the committee for next year’s tournament. There have been meetings with key players, such as the co-chairs, city representatives, Bruins president George Sereggela and head coach/general manager Jason Tatarnic, but much of the work begins now.
“We have the top levels of the committee in place right now, and the different directors and the committee heads who will be taking on significant roles in the lower levels of the flow chart will be formulated in the next week or two,” said Prokop.
The City of Estevan has stepped forward with a total of $150,000 over two years in support for the tournament. That will cover much of the sponsorship needs for the tournament. Prokop said they don’t have to focus on going out to the business community, looking for sponsorship dollars. Instead they can focus on selling ticket sales and packages for the week of hockey.
Hoffort pointed out the committee will employ some of the successes of the 2016 Saskatchewan Summer Games in Estevan, separating the work out among the different committees, and then coming together periodically to provide updates.
“There will be different people put in charge of many different and small segments of the event. They’ll each have their committee members,” said Hoffort.
It resulted in tremendous attention to detail with the 2016 Games, Hoffort said.
Hockey Canada’s announcement also allows Tatarnic to move forward with building the team that will be the host entry for the tournament. Tatarnic said he is pleased that Estevan will remain the host.
The club has 17 players eligible to return from the shortened 2020-21 campaign. They’re eager to come back and get a full season in with the Bruins.
“We want to remain loyal to those players, but at the same time, they have to prove that they are players who can ensure we’re going to be very competitive at the tournament. It makes for an interesting time,” Tatarnic said.
But the tournament doesn’t make as much of a difference as one might think when it comes to recruiting, said Tatarnic, who helped build the Chilliwack Chiefs team that won the tournament as the host team in 2018.
“Some players they’re quite excited about the national championship. They want to play in that tournament, so they want to come. Other players, it’s not a big deal to them,” said Tatarnic.
Estevan Mayor Roy Ludwig said the tournament will be a great event for the Bruins organization and for the community as a whole.
“Our local businesses will benefit, especially the hotels and restaurants,” said Ludwig. “Any time we hold an event like this, people come away saying ‘Wow! What a great community.’”
He expects the local hospitality sector will make the city proud with their efforts to welcome so many people to the city.
Ludwig said the City of Estevan didn’t lobby Hockey Canada about keeping the tournament here, because they didn’t want to pester the organization, and the mayor thought Estevan’s initial bid was excellent.
The tournament will be a chance to showcase Estevan’s arena, amenities, volunteers and more to people from across Canada.
“We’re always the envy of all communities of like size, with the fact that we can pull above our weight, we can punch above our weight when it comes to volunteers. We have the best, we believe, volunteers in Western Canada, and we’ve proven it time and time again.”