With the potential for the Canadian Hockey League to look at smaller markets for the annual Memorial Cup, the Soo Greyhounds feel they can provide a top-quality event.
The ownership of the Greyhounds, led by president and governor Tim Lukenda, and team management, led by general manager Kyle Raftis, feel that the team has a lot going for it as they prepare to bid on the 2021 Memorial Cup.
“It’s important that we manage expectations,” Lukenda said. “We’re doing this, and some will believe that we are an underdog. I think, given all of the attributes of our community and the way we’ve hosted other events in the past, we feel like we can put a really good case forward. Then it depends on who else is in the mix.”
Lukenda said he’s excited about “what it could mean for our community and what it could mean for our team.”
He went on to outline the four main points looked at when selecting a host.
“They’ve indicated that it’s going to be based on the community ability to pull it off; the facilities and having the amenities that they need for an event of this nature; the reputation of the franchise; and finally the competitiveness of the team that’s expected in that Memorial Cup year,” Lukenda said.
“We tick a lot of boxes,” Lukenda added. “We’ve got a small facility, but an outstanding facility. We can demonstrate the community’s ability to host great events. And when you look at our team, I’m very optimistic about the way our team has been trending and how we’re shaping up and where we could be next year.”
Raftis said he feels the on-ice product is something that will be a strength for the team next season with all but two players from the 2019-20 squad potentially returning next season.
“Year-to-year is always tough to gauge at this level but the way we’re trending over the last little bit and seeing the group that we’re hopeful to return and seeing that step in maturation with a lot of these players, it’s an exciting group that we can build off of,” Raftis said.
Asked if he sees the 2020-21 Greyhound team as a championship contender, Raftis agreed.
Lukenda said the decision to put a bid in for the tournament came together “pretty quickly.”
“We got the sentiment that there was some initiative on the league’s part to try to open up the bidding to other communities besides just the largest markets,” Lukenda added. “Through my activities on the OHL board, the message was expressed that they were hoping for a number of bids and wanted to encourage smaller markets to put in a bid if they felt they were capable of doing so.”
Lukenda said the first suggestion of putting in a bid to host the event came in the last two or three weeks.
The team will formally submit a letter of intent to bid on Monday to the league office and a package that will include some of the specifics on the bid.
The bid will include a budget that Lukenda said it would help “demonstrate that you believe you can cover your expenses with your facility and at particular ticket prices as well as all of the expenses of hosting an event and flying in teams, putting people up and all of those things. It’s a pretty involved process.”
Lukenda said that even with a smaller facility in the GFL Memorial Gardens, the team would “demonstrate that we can do it on a ticket price that is affordable for our market.”
“We’ve looked at the last few bids that have occurred in other cities and we want to be more affordable and appropriate for our market and the visitors that will come here,” Lukenda added.
Lukenda said one of the challenges will be “to convince the decision-makers that there’s something special about the Memorial Cup and the connection of a junior hockey hotbed like we believe we are here in the Sault.”
“That’s what we have to do is sell them on that whole emotional part of why a small town like Sault Ste. Marie is worthy of it,” Lukenda added.
In discussing other potential bidders, Lukenda referenced the Oshawa Generals, who have been rumoured to be interested in bidding as well.
Once bids are submitted to the league, Lukenda said the league plans to develop a shortlist “within a month or so.”
That will lead to in-person presentations to the selection committee in April.