The Memorial Cup isn't just about hockey, said Mark-Anthony Ashfield, the chair of the host committee for the event.
"I've always said we never bid to host just a hockey tournament," he said on Tuesday, four days before the national major-junior hockey championship kicks off in Saint John.
"Our bid was to host an event that was going to take over the city and leave an impact on this city."
Ashfield said numerous events will take place over the 12-day event, including ball hockey tournaments, the Bash on the Bay music festival at the new waterfront container village, a bike rodeo, and a speakers series in Market Square.
But if it's hockey you're looking for, there's some of that, too. The tournament begins on Monday, when the hometown Sea Dogs take on the winner of the Ontario Hockey League at 7 p.m. at Harbour Station.
Trevor Georgie, the Sea Dogs president and general manager, compared it to Saint John's annual Moonlight Bazaar, a hugely popular event where several uptown streets shut down and are packed with people, vendors and live entertainment.
Georgie said the Memorial Cup will be similar to the Bazaar — but for 12 full days, plus leave a legacy in the city in its wake.
He said it is "a once-in-a-lifetime experience."
Memorial Cup festivities kick off on Saturday with a number of happenings, including the unveiling of a new ball hockey facility on the waterfront and the opening of a ball hockey tournament that will take place there.
Live music will also begin at the Area 506 container village on Saturday, featuring the Strumbellas. The Bash on the Bay music festival will continue until closing day on June 29, featuring acts such as David Myles, Classified and Alan Doyle.
Concerts will be free of charge, but game tickets will allow holders early access to the music venue, said Ashfield.
Day One will end with a fireworks display at 11 p.m. over the harbour. More fireworks are scheduled for Monday at 10 p.m., as the opening game wraps up, and for closing night on June 29.
A second chance at the cup
The Sea Dogs ended the regular season as the hottest team in the league, having won their final 15 games in a row. But they were knocked out in the first round by the ninth-ranked Rimouski Oceanic.
They are one of four teams in the championship only by virtue of being hosts for the event.
Georgie said the first-round loss was "absolutely soul crushing."
"But, you know, very few times in life, you get a second chance. And we have one here at the Memorial Cup."
To prepare for that, the team made some changes — most notably, they replaced the coach by bringing in Gardiner MacDougall, on loan from the University of New Brunswick, "who is, by all accounts, the winningest active coach in Canada with seven national championships, 14 Atlantic championships," said Georgie.
He said the change has been good for the team.
"The last few weeks have been tremendous. The team's got a renewed sense of confidence, renewed energy. They're working tremendously hard. They're working probably the hardest I've ever seen them work," said Georgie.
It wouldn't be the first time that a team knocked out in the first round came back as hosts to win the whole thing. Georgie said the Windsor Spitfires did it a decade ago, and he's hoping to repeat the feat.