Saginaw, Great Lakes Bay Region Shine During 2024 Memorial Cup Tournament

    icon Jun 05, 2024
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'United We Soar’ was the tag line for the 2024 Memorial Cup presented by Dow.   You can now change that to moniker to ‘Attention to Detail.’


Yes, that’s how good that we as a city, county and region represented itself as hosts of the Memorial Cup. I had an up close and personal experience with the tournament as I covered the tourney as a member of the media and as a volunteer. Additionally, as a Saginaw County Commissioner, I had a hand in approving the funds to renovate the Dow Event Center. That was the first piece of the Memorial Cup puzzle, as the host-Saginaw Spirit couldn’t have placed its bid without the necessary improvements – which included new dressing rooms, suites, parking structure, LED lighting, and an LED advertising ribbon.


And, of course, the elevator. The building, previously known as the Saginaw Civic Center, opened in 1972 and the facility never had an elevator to take patrons and workers to the upper press box level of Wendler Arena.


The Dow Event Center is owned by Saginaw County and managed by ASM Global, and is a 100,000 square foot facility that houses Wendler Arena, The Atrium, Garden Room, and the Heritage Theatre. ASM put its best foot forward by bringing in chefs from Florida, Georgia and Grand Rapids to help feed the overflow crowds during the 10-day tournament. Besides handling the traditional concession stands (the Poutine was a huge hit), the ASM kitchen staff had to feed the media and National Hockey League scouts in a specially-designed area near the Garden Room, as well as the VIP area where corporate sponsors were provided food.


A Bevy of Volunteers


Saginaw Spirit owner Richard Garber and President and Managing Partner Craig Goslin are the first to admit that the Spirit couldn’t have pulled off an international event as large as the Memorial Cup without the help of volunteers.


People from throughout the Great Lakes Bay Region (and beyond) signed up to volunteer for various jobs in and around the Dow Event Center. A trio of volunteer co-chairs – Mitzi Brown, Julie Behmlander, and Cathy Tafel – did a tremendous job of slotting individuals into their various roles. Many volunteers signed up for four-hour shifts, but several went the extra mile by staying much longer to assist in making it a first-class event. One of the areas that were kept extremely busy was transportation. With Canadian Hockey League executives, media members and scouts staying in Frankenmuth, a fleet of vehicles - provided by Garber Auto Group – were kept busy transporting people back and forth. According to Goslin, a total of 876 volunteers signed up to assist the Spirit organization.


Sadly, one volunteer who I saw earlier in the week when the Spirit were handing out credentials and shirts to volunteers, passed away a few days before the tournament. Terry Metiva, an Arthur Hill High School graduate and former teacher, passed away at the age of 64. He taught at St. Peter and Paul, Nouvel Catholic Central, North Middle School, Arthur Hill, Bay City Western, Bay City Central, and Handy Middle School. He was also the principal of Zilwaukee Elementary School.


Opening Parade


The Memorial Cup presented by Dow officially started on Thursday with the arrival of the Cup Parade and Ceremony presented by LiUNA. The parade started at the Commerce Tower Building and ended up at Jolt Event Park. Gov. Gretchen Whitmer spoke to the crowd regarding Saginaw’s efforts in landing the tournament, by saying “Detroit is called Hockeytown, but Saginaw is going to give Detroit a run for their money.”


The Saginaw-Bay Symphony Orchestra was a great touch and Todd Michael Hall did an outstanding job on both National Anthems. Some attendees complained about the length of the parade being so small. It wasn’t billed as a huge parade. It was a ceremony to deliver the prestigious Memorial Cup to the Jolt Event Park. The championship parade was the day following the championship game, and mirrored the same route as the opening parade. The players had fun during the parade and on stage where they were joined by members of the Spirit organization. It was held at noon following the title game to accommodate CHL officials.


Campus-like Atmosphere


Kayla Pionk, the Special Events Coordinator for the Saginaw Spirit, had her hand in just about everything dealing with the Memorial Cup. The UA Local 85 Fan Fest was a huge hit with kid’s games, Food Truck Alley, a merchandise tent, a speaker series, live entertainment daily, and much more. I chatted with one Canadian visitor who has attended the past 10 Memorial Cup tournaments. He said none of them topped what Saginaw had to offer.


Public Transportation


Saginaw Transit Authority and Regional Services (STARS) was one of the unsung heroes of the 2024 Memorial Cup. Executive Director Glenn Steffens had a fleet of brand-spanking new busses on hand for free transportation each day of the tourney. They provided shuttles routes from 2-11 p.m. to Frankenmuth hotels and Visitor Headquarters, as well as routes to Kochville Township hotels and loops to shopping and dining venues.


Media Center/NHL Scout Area


The Media Center was a flurry of activity each day. Coordinated by the Canadian Hockey League and its Manager of Media Relations, Chris Seguin, there were numerous television, newspaper, magazine and social media members coming and going. There was even a photographer from Getty Images.


The room was littered with tri-pods, microphones, sound boards, backdrops, and bright lights. The Garden Room served as the Media Center and an adjoining tent housed tables/chairs for the media and NHL scouts to dine in. Most knew each other as there was a lot of interaction between them, trading hockey stories in both English and French.


The media had access to players, coaches and general managers from each team before and after each game. The room opened daily at 3:30 p.m. and ASM put on a spread of food each day beginning at 5 p.m. on days there was a game. Besides a daily dose of salad and rolls, they were treated to Beef Tenderloin, Fettuccini Alfredo, chicken and rice, steak and chicken Fajitas, burgers/brats, and beef brisket. I chatted with one AMS employee working for the kitchen staff. His day for a 7:30 p.m. game started at noon and his day didn’t end until around 1 a.m.


A host of National Hockey League scouts and general managers attended the Memorial Cup. They had to sign in daily during the tourney. For the first 3-4 days, there were three pages of scouts at the Dow. The numbers waned as the tournament progressed since there was a Scouting Combine in Buffalo later in the week. The pro scouts were extremely friendly and were huge coffee drinkers. Some of the organizations sending scouts included Ottawa, Pittsburgh, Toronto, Philadelphia, Chicago, Anaheim, Vegas, Tampa Bay, Utah, Dallas, New Jersey, Buffalo, St. Louis, Calgary, Winnipeg and Detroit. Former Detroit Red Wing Pat Verbeek, now the GM of the Anaheim Ducks, couldn’t have been more than 5-foot-7.


Extremely Safe Event


The Saginaw County Sheriff’s Department were tasked as the leaders of the security detail. They had help from the City of Saginaw, Michigan State Police, and a few other departments, but Sheriff Deputies did the bulk of the work. A year ahead of the event Sheriff William Federspiel said no one from his department could take vacation time during the Memorial Cup; it was all hands-on deck. When not patrolling the Dow by vehicle and by foot, the Sheriff’s Department was busy escorting team busses from Frankenmuth to both the Dow Event Center for games and the Saginaw Bay Ice Arena for practices.


Oh Canada, Oh Carrollton Pub Crawl


Three local Carrollton Township taverns – Heck’s, Big Bill’s and Merl’s - and one in Saginaw – Bruce’s – held a Pub Crawl on the opening Sunday of the tournament. Patrons purchased specially-designed tee-shirts and each bar had food and drink specials. STARS delivered about 300 Canadians from tavern to tavern. Each bar sported American and Canadian flags and revelers could watch that night’s game on television. The event was from 2-8 p.m. and each tavern was slammed all day long.  All proceeds went toward Carrollton Township First Responders.


Miscellaneous Musings


Todd Michael Hall knocked it out of the rink with his rendition of the American and Canadian National Anthems prior to the championship game. He was accompanied by Domingo Vasquez on bass guitar and they both electrified the sold-out crowd.


Public Address announcer Jim Biggins did his usual stellar job. He was followed by a second PA announcer who delivered the identical message in French. During television timeouts, “Captain Tom” brought his high energy and kept the fans entertained with his goofy games and antics.


My favorite tee-shirt read: Here for some great hockey. Cheering for anyone . . . except the London Knights.


Look for the Dow Event Center to bid on the Michigan High School Athletic Association’s Final Four hockey tournament. MHSAA officials said there needs to be a facility with four dressing rooms, which the Dow now has.


You may have seen coaches and Canadian Hockey League officials wearing a red poppy on their suit lapel. The Memorial Cup was first presented in 1919 in remembrance of Canadian soldiers who paid the ultimate sacrifice in the first World War. In 2010, the Memorial Cup was rededicated to the memory of all fallen Canadian military personnel. Poppies are a Memorial Cup tradition and are distributed freely as a symbol of remembrance.


I was befriended by London broadcasters Jim Van Horne and Mike Stubbs who were doing the radio broadcast for Canada’s 980 CFPL. One day they quizzed me on Bay City, asking me about Madonna. When I mentioned that the Bay City Rollers got their name by tossing a dart at a map, they laughed and said they were going to use that tidbit on the air.


On the final day of the tournament, I presented them with Saginaw County ink pens and a green Crown Royal bag filled with chocolates. Not all people from London are like Dale Hunter. They told me they’ve never seen a team that excels more in the transition game between the red and blue lines then the Saginaw Spirit.


Much has been said and written about complaints from Old Town Saginaw business owners who said “they were sold a bill of goods” regarding the Memorial Cup. They said they thought they would be flooded with Canadian visitors and didn’t receive the foot traffic they thought they would. I’ve been in advertising/marketing for 35 years, people – especially out-of-towners – don’t just show up at your doorstep. They have to be invited. People will go where they are invited. They should have done their due diligence and marketed their area better. They had every opportunity to provide info/maps/menus to the hotels hosting the Canadians.


It would have been nice if the Spirit organization could have somehow worked in Matt Hoffman into the tournament. Hoffman, who grew up in Thomas Township, was the first hockey player from the Saginaw area to play Junior hockey. He had a long semi-pro career and has his name etched into the Memorial Cup from when he played with the Oshawa Generals. Another Saginawian who could have been recognized is Charleston Hughes. Hughes, a Saginaw High graduate, had a tremendous 14-year career in the Canadian Football League. He recently retired after recording 519 tackles and 136 sacks – which sits fifth all-time in CFL career sacks.


Very Few Negatives


There were only a few negatives. One was the Souvenir Program. It was obviously produced well ahead of the tournament since there were zero stories or photos of the participating teams and individual players. If you wanted a program with strictly advertisements, this one was for you. For $7.00 ($7.46 with tax), you received a nice, glossy 112-page program. However, 89 of the 112 pages were ads. There are plenty of print shops around the Great Lakes Bay Region that would have loved the opportunity to design and print a Memorial Cup keepsake.


An opportunity was missed during the opening parade. People were lining up inside the Jolt Event Park an hour before the parade and there was no food or drink for sale.


The Media Deck inside Wendler Arena was formerly a party deck located at the top of Sections 1, 2, and 3. Because it was so long, people who had tickets on either side of the Media Deck couldn’t see the opposing corner because it was blocked by the deck.


The Dow Event Center ushers need to be instructed as to where to stand during a game. Their backs need to be against the concrete wall instead of standing near the railing. Patrons in the upper level had their view blocked by the ushers. Additionally, on the Zamboni-end of the arena, ushers were standing in front of the scoreboard which displayed shots on goal. People couldn’t view the shots on goal because it was blocked by ushers.


One of the main on-ice suites was used only a handful of times during the entire tournament. That probably was an opportunity for organizers to let youth groups or non-profit organizations use the suite.


The Hare Hunt was popular even though several people questioned the location of one rabbit near the Henry Marsh Plaza. Vehicles were stopping on busy Washington Avenue and letting their kids out to grab photos while tandem trucks had to change lanes to avoid hitting the stopped cars.


The Hockey Hall of Fame used the spacious lobby of the Heritage Theatre, but it wasn’t well lit. People were seen using their flashlight on their cell phones to see inscriptions on the trophies.  



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    Sherrie Van Houten

    Great overview, and as a fan/volunteer I agree with almost every word. The comment I’d add is that the lighting in the Heritage Theater was changed almost immediately to cool lighting strips by the trophies, and it made a big difference. Adjustments made on the fly were one of the most impressive parts of how this tournament was run. And SOMEBODY at Jake’s put themselves out there—I worked in transportation, and we did a LOT of pickups and dropoffs there!! As you say, it doesnt happen by itself.