Portage la Prairie gearing up for Centennial Cup

Host city looks to build on success of 2015 tourney


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Portage la Prairie staged a successful national junior A hockey championship in 2015, capped by the hometown Terriers winning the title.

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Portage la Prairie staged a successful national junior A hockey championship in 2015, capped by the hometown Terriers winning the title.

Dale Deschouwer, who chaired the city’s organizing committee eight years ago, is back at the helm for the hosts in 2023. His familiarity with the job and the accumulated experience of dozens of returning local volunteers suggest the Centennial Cup should be a success.

It won’t be easy sailing, however.

The 11-day tournament, slated to run May 11-21, has been expanded to 10 teams from the old five-team format. It’s bigger, costlier and more labour intensive to manage.

“Some departments, like team services, it’s twice as much laundry as before and the game-day people have twice as many games so those two departments have twice as much work,” said Deschouwer by phone Tuesday.

“We’re lucky that these two departments are run by the same people as 2015. Most of our committee from 2015 came back for 2023 and because of the returning committee heads, it’ll make this tournament run a lot smoother because they’re all so experienced.”

The Manitoba Junior Hockey League’s Terriers, who are guaranteed a berth in the tournament as the host team, began selling tournament ticket packages from their online site last month. The club sold approximately 1,000 tournament tickets packages in 2015 and hopes to exceed that number in 2023.

Selling all 1,800 seats at the $250 package price would raise $450,000 toward the estimated $800,000 total cost of staging the tournament. Sponsorships and the sale of 600 standing room tickets per game would also further help to defray costs.

“With our ticket packages there’s 25 games in this tournament, so that’s 10 bucks a game and that’s pretty cheap entertainment,” said Deschouwer, who also serves as governor of the MJHL franchise. “We know that a noon game on a Thursday might not draw many people so what we’re doing is we’re going to set up a program where people can go and turn their tickets in (for use by school children)… Basically, all the schools in Portage are within walking distance of the arena so we can invite schools to come and use up those tickets.”

Deschouwer said the estimated economic spinoff of hosting the tournament is approximately $5 million. The 2023 tournament replaces the 2020 event, which was supposed to be hosted by the Terriers but cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The 2021 tournament in Penticton, B.C., was also wiped out before Estevan, Sask., hosted a massive 10-team extravaganza last spring.

Hundreds of visitors, requiring about 250 hotel rooms, will be a welcome sight to Portage la Prairie businesses.

“When this pandemic hit, the two hardest hit areas were hotels and restaurants and this tournament basically benefits hotels and restaurants,” said Deschouwer. “We have enough (hotel rooms). Our committee’s costs for accommodations for these teams is $275,000. Meals, which we are responsible for, are $200,000.”

The tournament preliminary round is likely to include three games per day, with opening faceoffs scheduled for 11:30 a.m., 2:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.

Under a 10-team format, Manitoba will have two teams participating and that means additional drawing power. It’s a benefit organizers didn’t have in 2015 when the Terriers were the lone local squad.

Heading into Tuesday’s action, the Terriers were 22-6-1-1 and tied for second in the MJHL’s East Division, four points behind the front-running Steinbach Pistons.

In May, a Manitoba team is slated to play in the late slot on each day of the preliminary round. A second league representative from nearby Steinbach or the Winkler Flyers has the potential to be a major boost the tournament’s attendance figures.

Any surplus raised at the tournament will be handed out to deserving local groups.

“The money raised at this tournament doesn’t go to the hockey club,” said Deschouwer. “It just stays as a legacy in the city. It hasn’t been approved yet but minor hockey gets a share of it.”


Twitter: @sawa14

Mike Sawatzky

Mike Sawatzky

Mike has been working on the Free Press sports desk since 2003.

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