Edmonton aims to create hockey festival by bringing Ivan Hlinka to city


Nolan Patrick, pictured in action for the Brandon Wheat Kings. (OHL Images)

It is the world’s premier hockey tournament for draft eligible players, but as is stands today, the Ivan Hlinka Memorial Cup won’t be a success in Edmonton in 2018 without a little tweaking.

So they’ll pair it with a hockey festival and try to create an atmosphere akin to baseball’s Winter Meetings, where teams and advertisers gather to plan their seasons, create relationships and do business.

“We want to create an atmosphere downtown,” said the Vice Chair of the Oilers Entertainment Group and former Hockey Canada head Bob Nicholson. “It’s the third week of August, so all of minor hockey is starting to get engaged. Hockey Alberta, Hockey Edmonton, we’ll work with them to have coaching clinics and skills development.”

They may even replace Ivan Hlinka’s name with Wayne Gretzky’s when the tournament is in Edmonton, if that helps create a thriving festival of hockey every second year, with Hockey Canada and the Oilers announcing on Monday that the 2018, 2020 and 2022 tournaments will be held largely at Rogers Place.

First, the tournament.

It is not an International Ice Hockey Federation sanctioned tournament, as the IIHF holds its U-18 World Championships each spring. But because Canadian Hockey League teams do not release their players to that tournament, the Ivan Hlinka in August has become the only true best-on-best for draft eligible players held annually.

The tournament, however, has been held in the Czech Republic and Slovakia for the past 20 years. “We can generate only hundreds of people in the stands. Maybe 4,000 maximum,” said a Czech hockey official on Monday.

It’s can’t-miss stuff for NHL scouts, and the hope is that holding the tournament in Canada will increase traffic for NHL GMs as well. So they’ll bring it to Canada and try to grow this tournament, and try out a few innovations:

• Convincing NHL clubs to hold their scouting meetings here for the upcoming season, centred around a viewing of the best crop of 17-year-olds.
• Make it a place where corporate sponsors and league/team officials meet to hammer out deals.
• Bring in the families of European teams.
• Perhaps even try out some rule changes under consideration by the NHL.

“It’s a work in progress,” said Nicholson. “But I remember the World Juniors when I started with Hockey Canada. (People) would say, ‘Christmas time? How do you draw people at Christmas time?’ It started slowly.”

Rogers Place holds over 18,300 for NHL games, but curtains down to about 9,300 seats when the WHL’s Edmonton Oil Kings play. Because of the age group, the costs associated with the tournament are far less than a World Cup, so the thinking is that ticket prices can be very affordable.

“I don’t think we have to charge a ton of money to get people into the building,” said Nicholson.

Canada has dominated this tournament, winning 20 of the 26 tournaments to date. The Czechs won for the first time in 2016.

Eight of the world’s hockey powers — Canada, U.S.A., Russia, Sweden, Finland, Czech Republic, Slovakia and Switzerland — contested the most recent tournament this past summer.

“After 27 years,” said Slovak hockey executive Miroslav Valicek, “we need good, new fresh air bringing us to Edmonton. The only pity is, we have to wait one more year.”

“It’s the best players in the world in their age group, bar none,” said Hockey Canada head Tom Renney. “It just gives us an opportunity to have a more global look at the game, and to appreciate how well it’s played around the world.”

When submitting content, please abide by our submission guidelines, and avoid posting profanity, personal attacks or harassment. Should you violate our submissions guidelines, we reserve the right to remove your comments and block your account. Sportsnet reserves the right to close a story’s comment section at any time.