Time will tell which team sips sweet success from junior hockey’s top prize, but here’s a lock: The trophy will be heading to Michigan in 2024.
In late March, the Ontario Hockey League announced that the Saginaw Spirit had won the right to host the CHL’s annual championship tournament.
An American-based OHL team has never hosted the Memorial Cup before, unlike the Western Hockey League, which has had Portland (1983, 1986), Seattle (1992) and Spokane (1998) each play host.
“To expand the brand of the CHL. It’s the best development league in the world,” Craig Goslin, president and managing partner of the Spirit, told Global News why Saginaw is hosting.
“It’s real important that we expand not only our brand, not only throughout Canada, but also on the U.S. soil. We plan on carrying on the Canadian tradition of what the importance the Memorial Cup means.”
Like previous host cities, Saginaw sent a crew of 16 down to study how the tournament works, what they like – such as the concert and hot-stove series — and what they can change.
“We’ve picked up a lot of ideas here, things that we’re either going to expand on or recreate ourselves in Saginaw,” said Goslin, adding the team’s rink is undergoing a massive $10- to $12-million renovation.
“We feel this is really the start of holding other special events (in the U.S.) for the Canadian Hockey League.”
Washington state next?
For junior hockey fans in B.C., Michigan hosting the Memorial Cup may be interesting, but it isn’t top-shelf news.
However, with Kamloops playing host to the 2023 edition, it’ll be some time before the tournament returns to Canada’s Left Coast – three years at minimum, and that’s assuming Vancouver or Victoria entering the bidding process.
Further, it’s been seven years since Alberta hosted (Red Deer, 2016) and 13 since Manitoba hosted (Brandon, 2010). Notably, Saskatchewan has hosted it twice in the past decade (Saskatoon, 2013; Regina 2018), with B.C. last hosting it in 2007 (Vancouver).
So odds are likely B.C. will be waiting six to nine years, if not longer.
With that in mind, with Michigan playing host, that has sparked discussion that the tournament could again return to Washington state or Oregon – places easily accessible for B.C. hockey fans.
“I think it’d be great. The hockey culture in our area has grown so much with the expansion of the NHL,” said Seattle Thunderbirds fan Brandon Johnson.
“We’re such a diverse market with four junior-league teams in our area. And we support those very well.”
Northwest world juniors
With the sudden, and successful, rise of the Seattle Kraken, it seems that it’s only time before the Pacific Northwest hosts the world junior hockey championship.
Not only does Seattle have an NHL rink capable of hosting what would be a sold-out gold-medal game, but having two junior rinks 30 minutes on either side is also helpful.
The 2005 tournament in Grand Forks, N.D., was heavily supported by Canadian fans who crossed the border, and the same would happen in Seattle.
“There’s really not a tournament like it in the world,” said Seattle resident Bryon Rappe, a longtime Thunderbirds season-ticket holder who’s in Kamloops for the Memorial Cup.
“Being able to see something like that in your hometown would be awesome.”
Memorial Cup appearances
That’s how many times coaching legend Don Hay has appeared in the Memorial Cup. Most of his appearances were with Kamloops (1986, 1990, 1992, 1994, 1995, 2023) but he also two showings with the Vancouver Giants (2006, 2007).
With Kamloops playing host to the 2023 edition, he surpassed one of his former Blazer players, Ryan Huska, who had seven (1992, 1994, 1995), including four with the Kelowna Rockets as either an assistant coach or head coach (2003, 2004, 2005, 2009).
Huska is currently an assistant coach with the Calgary Flames.
“Hnat Domenichelli, Ryan Huska, Darcy Tucker, Tyson Nash, they learned how to win as a young player and then led their teams as they got older,” said Hay.
“With Ryan, I always thought he’d get into coaching. And I always had a feel that Ryan would be a good coach. He’s just a great young man and an outstanding coach.
“Hopefully he’ll get a chance to win the Stanley Cup.”