NEW PORT RICHEY – Hockey pucks could replace lacrosse balls as the required sports equipment for the holiday tourism season in Wesley Chapel.
The Wickenheiser World Female Hockey Festival, founded by Canadian hockey player Hayley Wickenheiser, is seeking to expand from its home in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, to a location in the United States. Organizers briefed the Pasco Tourist Development Council April 18 on its plans to hold a second tournament at what they called a "destination location.''
The opportunity exists because the growing event turned away 92 of the 200 teams that applied to participate. The U.S. location could generate 1,500 to 2,000 hotel room nights in its first year, said Ceilidh Price, festival director.
A natural host would be the Florida Hospital Center Ice complex in Wesley Chapel, and the target dates are Dec. 28 to Jan. 2. Whether an agreement can be reached for this year or for 2019 still is to be determined.
The event, known colloquially as WickFest, could replace the Dick's Sporting Goods Tournament of Champions boys lacrosse tournament on Pasco's tourism calendar. That lacrosse tournament, held at the end of December in Wesley Chapel since 2008, "is most likely to move to another location,'' said Consuelo Sanchez of Visit Pasco, the county's tourist development office.
The tournament's presumed departure is not a surprise after Pasco cut its sponsorship funding in December from $90,000 to $20,000, saying the event had breached its contract by failing to promote Pasco County adequately. County officials also grumbled because nearly three-quarters of the tournament's hotel bookings were outside Pasco.
The hockey festival could be the alternative to fill local hotel rooms.
"It's a great opportunity for us and a really good time of year,'' said Visit Pasco Director Adam Thomas.
Event organizers toured Pasco's tourism amenities like TreeHoppers Adventure Park outside Dade City as part of their visit, and also met with the Tampa Bay Lightning to try to secure support. From Pasco, the event would seek a financial commitment, plus assistance in securing a title sponsor. The festival in Calgary is sponsored by Canadian Tire.
"Our intent is not to be a one and done or a three and done. Once we're in a market, we intend to stay,'' said Price.
Besides the competition, the festival also emphasizes personal development and leadership skills for the participating girls.
Organizers, cognizant of the market it is seeking to enter, likely would hire U.S. women hockey players as consultants for its clinics, Price said. The U.S. women's national team trained at the Florida Hospital Center Ice before its gold-medal-winning performance at the 2018 games in South Korea.
"It seems like an extraordinary opportunity,'' said Commissioner Mike Moore, chairman of the Tourist Development Council.
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Event organizers must submit a pro forma financial statement and iron out other details before the council, and later county commission, considers a monetary commitment.
Reach C.T. Bowen at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 435-7306. Follow @CTBowen2