It’s hard to pinpoint when Yarmouth, Nova Scotia’s die-hard love affair with hockey first began.
Decades ago, generations of residents used to play the sport in a leaky old barn, where at times the fog inside the building was thicker than what you’d see some mornings along the shores of the seaside town.
Then came the Mariners Centre, a twin arena and multi-purpose centre, whose Mariners name is reminiscent of the generations of residents who have made their living fishing on the sea.
Yarmouth takes pride in this hard-working labour force, and the people also take pride in their hockey as they cheer for their Mariners – whether it’s the kids playing minor hockey or the local Junior A team which, since the day it arrived on the scene in 2002, has consistently broken, and set, attendance records in the Maritime Hockey League.
Yarmouth’s love affair with hockey was also evident one year ago, when it hosted the seventh installment of the World Junior A Challenge.
Yarmouth is a town known for its ability to host large-scale events. It doesn’t shy away from the challenge. It attacks it head on.
So impressed was Hockey Canada with the running and success of the 2012 World Junior A Challenge that it did something unprecedented – it announced the event was coming back to Yarmouth in 2013 for a second consecutive year, something no previous host community had seen before.
Since shortly after the gold medal was awarded last November, the planning to bring back the event has been underway.
It would be a lie to say that planning hasn’t been easier the second time around. Organizers – both from Hockey Canada and the local host community – have been able to capitalize on the things that went right last year and tweak other things that they’d like to improve.
“With this event, the issue you always have is how do you enhance it and how do you create that ‘wow’ factor again,” Riley Wiwchar, Hockey Canada’s manager of marketing services and events, said in an interview five weeks out from the event. “That’s our challenge right now.”
Still, he said the pieces were coming together well. Sales of ticket packages were brisk in the months leading up to the event. The interest of scouts was high. Sponsors were looking to jump on board. And the volunteer team off the ice was readying itself for their tasks at hand.
“People just seem to be really excited about the event,” Wiwchar said, adding this year they saw themselves ahead of the game as far as plans falling into place were concerned.
But even if the event didn’t make any changes, didn’t add any extras, didn’t do things any differently from 2012, it would still be a great event. And that’s because Yarmouth set the bar when it came to hosting the event, and everyone knows it will again this November.
“I know the personalities on the host committee and myself and my crew here, you want to make it that much better so you put in more effort just to try and do that,” Wiwchar said.
Not only was the 2012 event a success on the ice, it was also an economic success off of the ice. An impact assessment of the event showed that for Yarmouth, the economic spin-off was $2.4 million. Provincially, the impact was $4 million.
The World Junior A Challenge will be the second large-scale event that Yarmouth hosts in a span of seven weeks. For three days in late September it turned its Main Street into a succession of outdoor hockey rinks when it hosted Hockey Night in Canada’s PlayOn! Redwood Cup, the country’s national street hockey championship.
Rick Allwright, who is in charge of group sales and marketing for the Yarmouth and Acadian Shores Tourism Association, says events like that and the World Junior A Challenge are important to a place like Yarmouth, because of the economic benefits the events bring to an area during the so-called shoulder season.
Mitch Bonnar, the host committee chair for the World Junior A Challenge, and Wayne Hamilton, the event’s project manager, are also well aware of the importance of an event like this to Yarmouth – both from an economic standpoint and a community one.
“Obviously hockey is a very big thing around here and it’s well supported and we’re very happy to be able to bring it here again,” said Bonnar.
“It’s a testament to the community that they supported it so well last year that Hockey Canada felt confident to bring it here a second year,” added Hamilton.
Hamilton also noted they’d been meeting on a regular basis with volunteers – one meeting had drawn 110 volunteers – and people are eager to be involved in the event.
He added the local businesses in the area are also taking a keener interest in the event this time around, knowing how successful it was in 2012.
For those who experience the event at the rink, or who benefit from just having it in the community, the host committee is striving to ensure things are as successful as last year, and even better.
“What we’re trying to do is make the experience different, there is no question about that,” said Bonnar.
Back at Hockey Canada, Wiwchar says after a while, you just have to let the event and the planning speak for itself.
“You can sit back and say, this is going to be improved and this area is going to be improved,” he said. “But you almost have to stop yourself and say ‘Okay, we’ve done enough, we’re ready. Let’s welcome the world and get to it.’”