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Winnipeg scores another winner

Under-17 tourney stands city in good stead with Hockey Canada

If you're detecting a trend here, you're not alone.

Hockey Canada just can't seem to go wrong with an event in Winnipeg.

Ontario’s Brendan Gaunce digs at a puck in front of the Team USA net.


Ontario’s Brendan Gaunce digs at a puck in front of the Team USA net.

The World Under-17 Hockey Challenge, which concluded Tuesday night with Team Ontario's 5-3 win over Team USA at the MTS Centre, attracted 45,066 spectators for its seven-day run.

Tuesday's gold-medal game smashed a record for attendance, 12,060, and while the overall spectator mark fell short of the tournament record, it's worth noting that all preliminary games were played at the new MTS Iceplex's Winnipeg Free Press Arena, capacity 1,500, and at Portage la Prairie's PCU Centre, capacity 1,900.

"It's another benchmark for the community in terms of hosting Hockey Canada-related tournaments," said True North Sports and Entertainment CEO Jim Ludlow. "I think it was a great experience for our people and I think it's a been a professional-level experience for the athletes, coaches and general managers of the teams."

The tournament has been a golden opportunity for True North to show off its new MTS Iceplex, which opened in late summer.

It's been the hub for all 10 teams in the tournament, for dressing rooms, practice and dining.

"It's a great venue here (the MTS Centre) and with the opening of the new four-pad on the west side of the city, another great opportunity to promote the Hockey Canada and True North relationship," said Ryan Robins, the event manager for Hockey Canada. "And obviously the city of Winnipeg is a hockey hotbed. All of that makes it a good fit here.

"We've got a history of working with the folks from True North. The Women's Worlds was a great success (2007), we brought some women's pre-Olympic games here in 2006 and obviously some pre-competition games from the World Junior in North Dakota."

This World Under-17 was just the opening salvo of a two-year stay here for the tournament.

Whatever wrinkles there may have been will be addressed and ironed out, quite possibly a new partner venue or venues among them.

Both Robins and Ludlow said Tuesday attendance at games in Portage was less than expected and that the tournament will be exploring other options for next year.

"Portage is not carved in stone for next year," Robins said. "We'll be checking into some other potential partner communities."

And of course, there will be an almost-total turnover of players to 1995-born players. Only a handful of those 1995s played this year.

But names are now known.

"If you didn't know a lot about the under-17's and you've been here, you'll probably approach it a lot differently next year," Robins said. "We think there will be a growing appreciation for the product, that it's not just another midget tournament.

"This is the first step to where these athletes get recognized. You'll be hearing a lot of these names in the new few years, at the under-18s, at the World Junior, at the NHL draft."

Speaking of the World Junior, the question on a lot of minds is whether the successful operation of yet another Hockey Canada event increases Winnipeg's currency when it comes to the WJC.

Which, incidentally, appears to be headed back to Canada every other year for the rest of the decade.

Ludlow was cryptic on that subject.

"We like to position ourselves to do what we can do for Hockey Canada and the community," he said. "If at the end of the day that puts us in a good position to bid on a tournament, all the better."

By the time the next wave of future stars hit Manitoba next Christmas, that bidding and politicking will have begun again.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 5, 2011 D1

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