Organizers of the World Under-17 Hockey Challenge in Windsor, Ont., are treating the high-profile tournament as a dress rehearsal for the prestigious Memorial Cup, which crowns Canada's best junior hockey team.
Ten teams from across Canada and around the world are in Windsor for the week-long event.
Five pre-tournament games were simultaneously played at five area rinks, including the WFCU Centre, on Wednesday night.
The games are proof, say organizers, Windsor has what it takes to host a world-class hockey tournament.
"It feels great ... made it through, relatively unscathed," under-17 operations manager Borden Yewchyn said. "I think it shows that our host committee, and the people involved with the host committee, are very capable of pulling off all the behind the scenes functions and tasks."
Windsor Spitfires head coach Bob Boughner has made it clear Windsor plans to bid for the 2014 Memorial Cup.
Windsor lost a bid to host the 2011 Memorial Cup. Mississauga played host of the Canadian junior hockey championship that season. Windsor last hosted the championship in 1981.
Under-17 organizers are happy with early attendance numbers. The games aren't selling out, but they weren't expected to, partly because the city didn't actually bid to host the event; it was moved from Winnipeg to Windsor once the NHL announced the return of the Winnipeg Jets. The change shortened preparation time and pre-tournament sales time.
"I think as we get close to the gold medal games, the medal round games as well, the interest [will be] there, I mean the interest has been fantastic in the community," event manager Steve Horne said.
Proving Windsor can host big events is key to getting the bigger ones.
Gordon Orr of Tourism Windsor Essex Pelee Island says proving a city can host events is important not just for hockey, but for sports tourism in general.
"The memorial cup is a huge pinnacle ... that everyone wants to host. And the organizers don't want to give it to a community that doesn't have a proven track record," Orr said. "So, under-17 or the Skate Canada, or the synchronized skating event we're hosting, all of these events help develop and support our character as a community that's willing to hold a signature sporting event."
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