Winning bid took lots of work
By Kevin Mitchell, Saskatchewan News Network; Canwest News Service
December 23, 2009
Jack Brodsky and Hugh Vassos cradled coffee cups and awaited their fate in mid-summer of 2008.
Scott Farley, Hockey Canada's senior director of marketing services and events, joined them at a Saskatoon restaurant -- the news percolating during his trek into the city.
"I thought our reaction would be a little different," Vassos says of the moment he and Brodsky discovered their bid group had landed the 2010 world junior hockey championship after repeated failures stretching back a full decade. "I anticipated a lot of jumping up and down and screaming and high-fiving and everything. But it was a little different; Jack and I looked at each other, congratulated ourselves and said 'We've got a lot of work ahead of us.' "
Saskatchewan, widely seen as too small to hold the ever-growing world championship, had tried and failed repeatedly to land the coveted event.
Saskatchewan was the host in 1991, then -- as the championship exploded in stature -- failed at bids to bring the world's best junior players back for 1999, 2003, 2006 and 2009.
But bidders were stubborn, like a rose-clutching suitor pursuing his dream girl.
"They say the squeaky wheel gets the grease ... or replaced," says Joe Bloski, a regular face on Saskatoon's oft-rejected bid committees. "We never backed off. We kept on trying. We bid and failed and bid and failed and bid again. That had some weight in the final decision-making process, though I don't think there was anybody feeling sorry for us, saying, 'Well, we'd better give it to those poor guys from Saskatchewan for trying so hard.' It was based on our overall presentation."
That presentation was impressive: A $12.5-million profit guarantee, as opposed to the $1 million Saskatchewan was on the hook for in 1991 and a provincewide "World Fest" celebrating hockey.
Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall joined the bid group in a Toronto boardroom when they laid out their case, an appearance Vassos says was vital to landing the event.
The province said it would be responsible for $8.9 million of the profit guarantee and pledged to provide its full support for the venture.
"I remember coming out of there saying, 'Boy, we gave this thing our best shot,' " Vassos says. "There wasn't anything we could have done any better. We certainly had the right people in the room making the presentations."
The seeds for Saskatchewan's 2010 hosting role were planted when Switzerland -- which had the rights to the tournament this year -- pulled out in 2007.
Hockey Canada, which already had 2012, added 2010 to its stable and sent out a notice late in the summer of 2007 that it was opening bids for both years.
That sent a shiver of anticipation through the men who had been involved in previous efforts to bring the tourney to Saskatchewan.
They picked up the bid guidelines and took part in a Nov. 30 conference call with the site selection committee.
They formally agreed to pursue the event during a meeting in the office of Saskatoon Mayor Don Atchison; Vassos, Bloski and Brodsky -- the Saskatoon Blades' owner -- were there, as was Credit Union Centre executive director Ken Wood and Todd Brandt of Tourism Saskatoon.
There was an odd mix of confidence and apprehension as they sealed their deal at the private get-together.
On Feb. 1, the group -- led by bid manager Vassos -- submitted a letter of intent to Hockey Canada, indicating plans to bid for 2010 or 2012.
A meeting with Regina officials left the Saskatoon group confident its could make the world juniors a cross-province event and it formally submitted its bid on April 1 after poring over its business plan.
With groups from Halifax/Moncton and Winnipeg/Brandon providing the short-list competition, Saskatchewan's contingent travelled to Toronto for the June 10 presentation that would make or break its bid.
"We knew we had to be firm in our presentation; we couldn't say, 'We propose or we hope or we think we can do this,' " Vassos recalls. "We took a very aggressive approach and said, 'We will do this.' I think they were impressed with that."
On July 7, a news conference made it official.
They had just a year and a half to get everything together -- a short time span, by world junior standards. But given those repeated rejections, they were happy to do it.
"It's like the team that never wins the Stanley Cup or the World Series," Bloski says. "You run, you put up a good fight, you play a good game, but you don't win. And you feel like there's something lacking; like there's a void there. Now, there's a feeling of fulfilment ... but I'll tell you how good it is on Jan. 6 (when the championships are finished).
"You kind of say, 'Boy, am I going to be glad when this thing is over.' But 18 months from now, when they announce that somebody's got this thing in 2014 and it could be in Canada ... you never know. It's part of our heritage; it's part of our fabric; it's part of our community; it's part of our lifestyle."
Vassos says his group will hit its $12.5-million profit guarantee as projected. The corporate community, he says, responded impressively. The Hockey Hall of Fame moved several displays into Saskatchewan for free family hockey festivals in Regina and Saskatoon and they'll have a Brier Patch-styled gathering place for fans.
The goal, says Vassos, is to set a new bar for future Canadian sites holding world juniors.
"The icing on the cake," he adds, "is if Canada wins their sixth straight gold medal. But THAT is out of our control."
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