By GREGG DRINNAN
Daily News Sports Editor
Craig Bonner would love to have the WHL play an outdoor game in Kamloops.
But it isn’t something the Kamloops Blazers’ general manager wants to rush into, meaning he would prefer to stand back and observe as the WHL is involved with one and perhaps two such games in the upcoming season.
The WHL announced Wednesday that the Calgary Hitmen and Regina Pats will meet at McMahon Stadium in Calgary on Feb. 21. That game is piggybacking on an NHL game between the Montreal Canadiens and Calgary Flames that is to be played at McMahon Stadium on Feb. 20.
WHL commissioner Ron Robison, in an interview with Dan Russell of Vancouver radio station CKNW on Wednesday, hinted strongly that the WHL will be part of a second outdoor game in 2010-11.
“There may be another announcement soon regarding another outdoor game this (season) as well,” Robison told Russell. “We are just in the final stages of planning for the second (game) and that announcement may be made very soon.”
Robison wouldn’t hint at where a second game might be played, saying only that “we’ve had other centres, even the U.S. centres, looking at this possibility. It’s a location that we can’t announce right now. We’re working closely on it. It’ll be something that we’ll be looking forward to getting announced very soon.”
While that second game isn’t likely to be held in Kamloops, it turns out that the WHL actually looked at holding an outdoor game here last season. Had it happened, it likely would have featured the Blazers and the Spokane Chiefs. They would have played at Hillside Stadium, likely on Jan. 27, the night the Olympic Torch Relay took over the facility.
“The City talked to us about it. They kind of brought it to us,” Bonner said Thursday, adding that “they were going to bring in some bleachers from somewhere.
“We’re always open to those types of ideas, but . . . when you really look at it, numbers-wise, you have to be sure it will really work and that it will really sell because it’s quite an expense to do the whole thing.”
Bonner suggested that the budget for such an event to be held here would push $400,000, with as much as $250,000 of that going to the installation of ice and boards.
Bonner said he spent some time chatting with recently retired defenceman Darryl Sydor, one of the Blazers’ owners, who played for the Pittsburgh Penguins in the first outdoor NHL game to be played in the U.S. That was in Buffalo on Jan. 1, 2008.
Bonner came away from that conversation thinking about all of the little things involved in taking on such a task.
“To me,” he said, “it’s something you would have to know in the summer in order to plan for. You need a good six months. It’s like organizing a Memorial Cup, but to a smaller degree. To do it right, you need a committee . . .. you need all that kind of stuff.
“There is a lot of little stuff you need to do. You need toques for players, different underwear . . . how many skate blades do you wreck? There’s a lot of stuff . . .”
The bottom line for Bonner, before he would entertain holding an outdoor game in Kamloops, is that he wants to stand back and observe what happens in 2010-11.
“I think we have to look at the success in Calgary,” he explained. “They’re piggybacking with the NHL, which is covering a lot of the costs.”
As Bonner pointed out, there is a lot of money involved in such a project, and “it’s one thing if you’re in Calgary and you’ve got 30,000 people.”
“But,” he added, “at the end of the day, how many people can you get into Hillside Stadium? I don’t know.”
Still, Bonner wouldn’t say that it won’t happen at some point down the road.
“It would obviously have to be a joint venture with the City,” he stated. “You get the ice for a certain amount of time, maybe a couple of weeks, and you would want to do some other things.
“There’s so many things that could happen. But, in saying that, if it works and it made sense, and we had a good agreement with everybody, it would be a fun event to be involved in.”
As for the WHL taking on a second outdoor game this season, signs would seem to indicate that it would take place in Regina’s Mosaic Stadium, the home of the CFL’s Saskatchewan Roughriders.
Robison told Russell that the WHL and the International Ice Hockey Federation worked towards holding a couple of outdoor games there last season, during the World Junior Championship.
“We did a very significant feasibility study there as part of the World Junior Championship,” Robison said. “It also would have included a Western Hockey League game.”
However, sources indicate that a second outdoor game may be played at Spokane’s Joe Albi Stadium, a 60-year-old 28,646-seat facility that is home to high school football and two professional soccer teams — the Spokane Spiders of the USL Premier Development League and the Black Widows, who play in the Women’s Premier Soccer League.