Doug Soetaert, the general manager of the Everett Silvertips, was at the 2010 Memorial Cup in Brandon in May.
He was planning to hold a preseason tournament -- the Holiday Inn Preseason Classic -- in September and was one team short. He knew that all five U.S. Division teams would be there. But he needed a sixth.
Which is about when he ran into Sherry Bassin, the managing partner and general manager of the OHL’s Erie Otters.
“Hey, we got a tournament . . . we got one spot open,” Soetaert said to Bassin, who has been around junior hockey longer than goal nets. “Would you be interested?”
Bassin loved the idea.
“That would be great, I’m coming,” said Bassin, who never met an idea he didn‘t like . . . at first. “That’ll be great.”
A couple of weeks later, however, Bassin had cooled on the idea.
By now, Soetaert was tossing around the idea with Everett head coach Craig Hartsburg, who had played and coached with the OHL’s Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds.
Hartsburg called Soo head coach Denny Lambert, who had worked under Hartsburg. Soetaert, meanwhile, chatted up Soo GM Dave Torrie.
“It all worked out,” Soetaert says. “They were happy to come and it was a great weekend for everyone.”
In fact, Soetaert couldn’t be happier with the way things went.
“It was really good . . . really good,” he says. “It went over extremely well with all the teams. The fans were very excited and there was a very positive response from them over having a team they had never seen before.”
The Greyhounds, he says, were a “really good fit.”
He adds that the Soo was on the hook for its expenses, although, he adds, “We worked with them. We underwrote a bit of it. But sometimes you have to spend money to make money.”
And it all was worth it.
“They played hard,” Soetaert explains. “The games were actually very intense. Playing west versus east, there was a lot of pride on the line. It was like a midseason game. It was that intense.”
The Greyhounds opened Friday by taking a 2-0 lead over the Silvertips, who came back for a 3-2 victory. The next night, the Greyhounds enjoyed 4-0 and 5-1 leads but then lost 6-5 in OT to the Portland Winterhawks. On Sunday, the Soo dumped the Tri-City Americans, 6-2.
Soetaert said the day games drew “1,500 to 1,800 fans,” with about 2,700 in the building for Everett’s evening games.
“Every game in this tournament . . . it was like a midseason game,” Soetaert said. “It was high intensity throughout . . . the three games that they played were high in intensity. And it just kind of carried over into the other games.
“It worked well for Portland and Tri-City, too, because they were excited to play them. Next year, it’ll be two other teams playing them . . . if we do something on these lines again.”
Ah, yes, what of next season? Soetaert isn’t sure what’s ahead. A year ago, the Silvertips were able to bring in an NHL exhibition game with the Tampa Bay Lightning meeting the Phoenix Coyotes. That game drew 7,800 fans.
“With our fan base here and how well they jumped on board with us . . . we did the NHL game last year and our fans were crazy,” Soetaert says. “I know the fans thoroughly enjoyed (this tournament). They want us to do something again next year. Whether that happens again, I don’t know.”
It very well could. Soetaert admitted Tuesday that he already has heard from one QMJHL team and another in the OHL, both of them letting him know that they would love to head west next year.
“Whether it works or not, who knows?” Soetaert concludes.