Hockey Canada gives Quebec a week to resolve world hockey woes

Hockey Canada president Bob Nicholson said Quebec City received the one-week extension after it failed to provide guarantees it could organize a successful tournament by a deadline Tuesday.

Nicholson wants to see a strong leader in place to head the organizing committee and assurances that fans will turn out for the first men’s world championship ever held in Canada.

The tournament, usually held in Europe, is to be co-hosted by Quebec City and Halifax in 2008, the year of the International Ice Hockey Federation’s 100th anniversary. It is also to be part of celebrations of the 400th anniversary of Quebec City’s founding.

Nicholson was disappointed that several leaders, including businessman Jacques Tanguay who is heavily involved in sports in the city, turned down offers to run the event.

“We don’t have the real prominent people at our table now and that will be one of – if not the – key question as we evaluate what comes back from Quebec City,” Nicholson said on a conference call.

He said there is also concern over whether enough tickets can be sold to meet budget projections, whether enough volunteers can be found and other matters.

If the right answers aren’t produced by next Tuesday, Hockey Canada will talk to other cities about taking over. Winnipeg and Hamilton are leading candidates.

“We’ll act immediately on the dates we set,” he said. “We have to.

“We’re behind now. We feel we can catch up with the right selection (of a leader), but the clock is against us and we have to work fast.”

However, he was emphatic that Hockey Canada’s first choice was to keep the event in Quebec City.

Nicholson said he has already spoken to representatives from Winnipeg, but will hold off for seven days to give Quebec a chance.

The city had asked for a 10-day extension, but was granted only seven because “we want to put pressure on them,” he said.

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Questions over Quebec City’s organization have simmered for months. Hockey Canada moved Scott Smith, its senior vice-president, there from Calgary to try to help find someone to run the event, so far to no avail.

Last week, mayor Andree Boucher said the city is behind the event after receiving assurances the provincial government would help cover any deficits. She also said Hockey Canada was bound by contract to keep the event in her city.

People in the tourism trade were in a panic when question of moving to another city were raised, as thousands of hotel rooms have already been booked.

On paper, Hockey Canada’s minimum requirements on ticket sales don’t look hard to fill in a city that used to pack the 15,000-seat Pepsi Colisee for the now-defunct Quebec Nordiques of the NHL.

They need to sell at least 5,000 tickets at C$35 apiece for each of 24 preliminary round games, 9000 tickets at $55 for two quarter-final games, and 12,000 tickets at $65 each for the two semifinals and the gold and bronze medal games.

The IIHF saw Canada, hockey’s birthplace, as the logical location for it’s centennial tournament.

The world junior championship draws huge TV audiences and sells out when held in Canada.

The world championship conflicts with the NHL playoffs, so a decision was made to hold the tournament it in non-NHL cities. Most of the world’s best players whose clubs are eliminated from the playoffs take part in the world event.

“We see this as the biggest hockey event we’ve ever hosted,” said Nicholson. “Expectations from the IIHF are very high.

“They see what we do with the world juniors and they expect the same type of interest from our fans.”