COCHRANE: Elite hockey our sure bet in Halifax
These are uncertain times for the Halifax sports industry.
Controversy is seemingly inevitable in any attempt to attract major international events if they require expensive infrastructure to be built.
Here’s a look at some of the recent ups and downs with sports events in Halifax:
Skepticism peaked — justifiably so, given the rapidly rising costs — with the failed attempt in 2007 to win hosting rights for the 2014 Commonwealth Games.
The 2010 announcement that the next three CIS semifinal Uteck Bowls would be moved from cramped Saint Mary’s to the newer, much larger stadium in Moncton certainly wasn’t good news for the Halifax market.
Moods lightened somewhat, though, when Halifax staged a wildly successful Canada Games in 2011.
But the city’s event status took another nosedive this year when politicians wouldn’t put up the money for a stadium that almost certainly would have made Halifax one of the host cities for the 2015 Women’s World Cup in soccer. That decision turned into more of a downer for many when they watched the Canadian women’s team turn in such an inspirational effort at the London Olympics.
Yet in the midst of all this debate about losing events due to poor sports infrastructure, we at least still have international hockey.
Hockey is the one area where new infrastructure isn’t needed — at least not now — for us to shine.
The 2003 world juniors, the 2004 world women’s, the 2008 world men’s and other international hockey events held across the province have shown that we’ve had our act together for some time.
Monday night’s Game 3 of the Canada-Russia Challenge at the Metro Centre showed again where hockey stands in this marketplace. A crowd of 8,144 turned up for the clash in which Russia prevailed 6-5. At least as large a crowd was expected for the deciding Game 4 Tuesday night.
At a news conference earlier in the week, Hockey Canada officials complimented Trade Centre Ltd. president Scott Ferguson and his team for winning yet another international hockey event for Halifax.
There’s no doubt Hockey Canada likes Halifax. It’s been a proven and profitable market. Though the building may no longer be big enough for the most major of international events, such as the world junior, it still has plenty of capacity for lower-profile events.
After Hockey Canada ruled that local junior superstar Nathan MacKinnon would play in a tournament in Europe this week with players in his own, younger, age group, I was among those who believed the decision would seriously hurt the gate for the Canada-Russia Challenge.
Yet even without MacKinnon or other players from the local market, more than 8,000 fans paid $45 for a seat to watch exhibition hockey that was also on national TV. And they weren’t there to sit on their hands. Even on a muggy August evening, the robust, partisan crowd was eager to see good hockey.
What this turnout tells me is that despite disappointments due in large part to bad political decisions, this is a resilient market that has the ability to keep bouncing back when the right products are offered.
Wins and losses in the hosting business are just part of the territory here. That’s our reality without proper sports infrastructure.
We’re fortunate to have a presentable, albeit aging, Metro Centre that’s large enough for most hockey events. This ensures that elite hockey will remain, for the foreseeable future, our one sure hosting bet.
Chris Cochrane is a sports columnist with The Chronicle Herald and the author of Inside the Game.