Thursday, October 22, 2015

St. Louis has put best foot forward trying to secure World Junior Championship

USA Hockey members spent past 48 hours touring city, getting 
final presentation from St. Louis committee, led by Blues' Zimmerman

ST. LOUIS -- What started out as 12 cities that were initially taken into consideration reduced to a final three, Blues president and CEO of business operations Chris Zimmerman feels the committee put together in trying to bring the 2018 IIHF World Junior Championship to St. Louis has left no stones unturned.

Zimmerman, along with Blues owner Tom Stillman, president of the St. Louis Sports Commission Frank Viverito and a number of Blues alumni including former Blues and Hockey Hall of Famer Brett Hull, former Blue and United States Hockey Hall of Famer Keith Tkachuk, and Total Hockey Founder Michael Benoit, wined and dined a delegation from USA Hockey, which toured the city the past 48 hours and absorbed the city's best shot at why it should be considered as the site to host the annual event. The tournament is played in late December-early January that hosts 10 countries. That delegation is expected to decide by the end of the calendar year between St. Louis, Buffalo and Pittsburgh. Those cities already made their respective presentations.
(file photo)
Scottrade Center (pictured) and St. Charles Family Arena would be the
host sites of the World Junior Championship. St. Louis is a finalist to host
it in 2018.

And following a breakfast and press conference Thursday that included a 10-minute on-ice presentation that included Hull wearing the No. 15 USA Hockey jersey in the spot that was reminiscent of the crucial goal he scored for the US against Canada that won the Americans the 1996 World Cup of Hockey against Canada in Ottawa, the delegation from USA Hockey (including Mike Bertsch and Jim Johannson) came away impressed.

"My congratulations to the city of St. Louis and the St. Louis Blues for doing a phenomenal job of putting their bid package together for this event," said Bertsch, the assistant executive director of marketing and communications for USA Hockey. "Tom, Chris and company right from the very get-go were very impressive with their presentation, both in print and then when we were in phone conversations that led us to St. Louis as one of the finalists of this event. ... The last 48 hours have probably been the fastest 48 hours I've had in a long, long time, and I will tell you that's a compliment. It's a compliment to the team here in terms of the engagement that they provided us with the people in the community, with the city and opportunity of going through the facility and finding out what St. Louis is all about.

"I would think our team would all agree that what was shown to us over the last couple of days was more than impressive. Our decision is extremely difficult. We know that the 'Heartland of Hockey' would be an ideal place in a lot of regards for hosting the event."

The 'Heartland of Hockey' has been the theme for Zimmerman and company, as St. Louis is within reasonable proximity around the country (and for Canadian fans, who attend the event in droves). Bertsch and Johannson got to tour the facilities, including both Scottrade Center and St. Charles Family Arena, which would be a site for a portion of the 31-game event, Ballpark Village and Union Station, among other amenities the city has to offer.

"It's certainly been a wonderful two days in St. Louis," said Johannson, assistant executive director of hockey operations at USA Hockey. "... We've got a full experience here about the pride of hockey, with both hockey and the city of St. Louis. Family has hit us hard here in a great way and a wholesome way that we do enjoy about the sport. 

"To me, the (WJC) is the highlight of the international hockey year. Our experience here has shown St. Louis can do such a great job in hosting this event."

The economic impact is expected to bring "north of $25 million" to St. Louis, according to Zimmerman, who took great pride in recognizing the committee for the job and presentation to the USA Hockey members.

"You probably got a sense of it speaking to my staff," Zimmerman said. "This is one of those cases where we've left it all on the ice. Those are two great hockey cities that we're competing with. Buffalo has certain advantages; obviously the proximity to Canada for this event is a big deal. We would be the southern-most city to ever host. So there is a geographic reality that we have to overcome. I think that'll be one of the main things they'll have to assess. Every bit of what we got to do these last two days, I'm incredibly proud of and I think the team really rose to the occasion."

Zimmerman compared the event to the NCAA Wrestling Championships that St. Louis has hosted but regarding the WJC, "This event is about three times that size."

Should St. Louis win the bid, it would be the biggest international event to be hosted in St. Louis since 1904 Summer Olympics. 

St. Louis hosted the 2007 Frozen Four and in 2011, the NCAA regional. The 2017 NCAA women's Frozen Four will take place at Scottrade Center.

"This is an opportunity for the Olympics to come to your town," Bertsch said. "... What separated (St. Louis) from others was certainly the bid package itself, but even more importantly was when we got on the conference call, which was about a three-hour conference call to go through the bid package, the parties on the St. Louis end of the call were able to answer specifically to each and every question that we had and seemed well-organized and seemed to have a good grasp of what we were talking about. The presentation by the people was certainly the key factor.

"I think they even had more creativity when we came in and talked to them again about some of the options. But they definitely didn't leave any stones unturned. I think the challenge for us is we're probably in the best situation that we've ever had when it comes to one of these international events and having three cities with three great organizations. St. Louis is certainly right in there. There will be no loser in this from our perspective just because they've all been so good. But I'm certainly extremely pleased with what St. Louis has done and what they presented over the last 48 hours."

The World Junior Championship drew 330,000-plus fans when the event was last on US soil in 2011 in Buffalo, and Bertsch said he expects to break that record in 2017. He feels St. Louis "has proven they have all those capabilities.

"We do look for some unique opportunities, something that might be new and brought to the event that we have not had before. I will tell you that each of those three cities has provided that. I don't feel I can disclose all of it at this time, but at the same time, it's strong consideration just because there are some neat things that are going on. I certainly have to give St. Louis credit f or the whole display of activities and things that can happen well within the Scottrade Center just because there's so much around here, whether it be the ballpark or Ballpark Village, Union Station and some of the things they presented to us as opportunities. Those are unique in terms of the proximity's and with everything being so close and so engaging."

Scottrade Center, which opened in 1994, will need to make upgrades and the USA Hockey delegation was outlined as to what the Blues intend to do over the next two years in regards to making upgrades to the facility, which includes a new scoreboard and upgraded locker rooms. 

Now comes the final countdown, which will include those that will make the final decision as to which city will win out. Bertsch, Johannson and others will decipher through all three cities' major selling points and come to a conclusion.
(file photo)
St. Louis is one of three finalist cities along with Buffalo and Pittsburgh
in line to host 2018 IIHF World Championship.

As far as the St. Louis group is concerned, they feel the pitch they made was 

"The one thing that keeps coming back to me over and over again is what a great opportunity for our community to show its love for hockey," Viverito said. "That's what this is all about for us. The Sports Commission wants to be like a hockey team of eight great lines. It just keeps coming at you and scoring goals in making events like this one successful."

And for the 'Heartland of Hockey,' which has increased its local flavor in the hockey community drastically, it would be a tremendous feather in the cap.

"What a great slogan that is," said Dave Fischer, senior director of communications for USA Hockey. "Whoever came up with it, kudos. It feels warm, friendly and certainly represents the area here. We really have had a terrific time."

The 2016 games will be played in Helsinki, Finland, and Montreal and Toronto will be co-hosts of the 2017 games. 

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