After not getting a chance to go through the full process the first time, the current ownership and management of the Soo Greyhounds made it clear that it wasn’t going to be the only time they would bid on the rights to host the Memorial Cup.
Team owner and president Tim Lukenda said Wednesday evening that, after going through the initial process to bid on hosting the 2021 tournament, bidding on the 2024 event as it returns to Ontario made sense.
“The time was right,” Lukenda said.
Lukenda said the team feels just as confident as it prepares to bid this season as it did prior to the 2021 tournament.
“We’re really excited about the chance to bid on the event again after kind of having the rug pulled out from under us in 2021,” Lukenda said. “We had done a lot of work in preparation for a bid and in a lot of ways, the same conditions apply. We feel like the city and the amenities we have to offer as a city would be a perfect host.”
From a financial standpoint, Lukenda said the team and the city would be in a good position to make things work.
“We need to know that we can put a financial plan together as part of our business plan and proposal that we can raise sufficient funds to put on a world-class event,” Lukenda said. “That involves being able to sell tickets for all of the events. It involves local sponsors, national sponsors. An event like this brings in a lot of tourism dollars. The last time we were bidding on it, there was a lot of excitement and support at the municipal level, provincial level, and federal level for tourism activity in northern Ontario.”
Lukenda added that the organization is optimistic that the financial support would mean tickets could be sold at a manageable price.
Lukenda said the city is “perfectly suited” to host the event.
“The Sault is ideally suited because we’ve got the amenities in our community that are capable of hosting an event like this, yet we also can do it in a way that we can create a real entertainment district downtown,” Lukenda said. “We can have most things within walking distance of our arena. We’ve got a great arena facility to do it. We check a lot of the boxes.”
The Greyhounds are one of four teams who submitted their intent to bid on the tournament, the others being the Kingston Frontenacs, the Niagara IceDogs, and Saginaw Spirit.
The next deadline in the process is Jan. 31, 2023, which is when teams will be required to have their bids submitted with the final decision on the host being made in March 2023.
As the time of the previous bid by the team to host the 2021 tournament, some talk had centred around smaller markets being looked at more often to host the event and Lukenda said that hasn’t changed.
With previous experience putting together a bid to host the event, Lukenda said the team can build on the earlier bid and will circle back to it as the team looks for support from the community during the process.
“There’s a lot of requirements in the bid process related to the number of hotel rooms available in the community, banquet facilities, arena specifications, practice facilities, all kind of things like that,” Lukenda said, “that’s basically a checklist that we were able to satisfy when getting ready last time.”
With the groundwork in place, Lukenda added there will be some updating to the previous bid as the team moves forward in the current process as well
As for the on-ice product, Greyhounds general manager Kyle Raftis said the decision to bid on hosting the tournament next season doesn’t have a major impact on how the team will approach the remainder of the 2022-23 season.
“When you look at this roster, obviously everyone’s focus is on the age and the experience of a lot of the players,” Raftis said. “For us, the key positions is where the core really is. Some of them are younger. Some of them are just taking that step.”
“When you look at the key positions, I like how we’re set up,” Raftis also said. “Obviously, when you get a chance to host (the Memorial Cup), it changes a lot of things, but I don’t think it impacts this year.”
With hosting duties potentially in their future, Raftis is optimistic about the capability of the Greyhounds in 2023-24.
“We have to trend in the right direction,” Raftis said.
“What it shows is that when we’re playing five-on-five, obviously there’s a great foundation there,” Raftis said. There’s a lot of talent there and I don’t think it’s clicked just yet. There’s flashes of it. There have been great steps taken by some guys offensively, but there’s a lot of room to grow.”