Halifax will be rolling out the red carpet for the 101st Memorial Cup, set to kick off this week with opening ceremonies getting underway Thursday.
The tournament officially gets underway Friday when the Halifax Mooseheads host the Western Hockey League champion Prince Albert Raiders.
Tournament organizers, arena staff and volunteers are still busy leading up to puck drop, making sure all the finishing touches are in place.
It’s the Mooseheads’ 25th Anniversary season and the club and host organizing committee have decided to pull out all the stops this time around.
The last time Halifax played host to the National tournament was in 2000 when the Rimouski Océanic won the title. The Mooseheads last won the Memorial Cup in 2013 when Saskatoon was the host.
Because of the window of opportunity for the players to compete at the Junior level, the Memorial Cup has been called the hardest trophy to win in Hockey. Sixty teams make up the Canadian Hockey League, and each one spends the season competing for the final four spots in national final.
It’s a grind, but these players are the best of the best, says Canadian Hockey League director of communications Paul Krotz, who described them as the next wave of future NHLers
“You have to go through your regular season schedule and then four rounds of playoffs and put together 16 wins just to capture [the cup],” said Krotz.
The Rouyn-Noranda Huskies won the Presidents Cup trophy defeating Halifax in six games, but both teams advanced to the tournament as Mooseheads serve as the host, while the Guelph Storm won the OHL title and in the WHL the Prince Albert Raiders were crowned champs.
The round-robin tournament begins Friday when Halifax plays host to Prince Albert at 8 p.m. The tournament, however, officially opens Thursday, when Memorial Cup will arrive by boat at the Halifax Harbour aboard the HMCS Glace Bay with members of the 2013 Memorial Cup champion team aboard.
WATCH: Halifax begins preparing for Memorial Cup
Outside the tournament itself, there’s lots to take in, as Argyle Street will be closed to traffic between Prince and Blowers Street and be the official site of the Memorial Cup Street Fest that will feature a who’s-who lineup of top-notch Nova Scotia musicians and bands playing each night.
“Obviously the Memorial cup is exciting for everyone, the musicians included,” said Tanya Colburne, Memorial Cup events manager.
“We made a commitment: it was going to be Nova Scotia only, with the exception of Gord Bamford.”
Admittance for the Street Festival and other events outside the tournament is free, along with the Memorial Cup Fan Zone being held at the Halifax Convention Centre that will feature a Hockey Hall of Fame exhibit and more.
All games will be broadcast on site and outside, and you can bet local restaurants and bars will be busy.
Colin Grant, the manager at the Midtown Tavern across the street from the Scotiabank Centre, expects it to be busy for the entire tournament — but they’re prepared, he says.
“We just got a big beer order and big keg order and lot’s of food coming in,” said Grant.
“We’re ready to go and the people are already beginning to trickle in now and so it’s going to be busy.”
Tickets for the Memorial Cup final are already sold out but tickets are still available for the round-robin and remaining games.
The Mooseheads promised to make the tournament accessible and have frozen ticket prices at a nine-year low for Memorial Cup.