Confirming reports made earlier this week, the Shawinigan Cataractes, in collaboration with the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League and two other member clubs, announced two outdoor dates on their schedule next season.
The Cats will play at the site of the Saint-Tite Western Festival on Friday January 23 against Victoriaville and again on Saturday January 24 against the Quebec Remparts. They will be the first ever outdoor efforts of the QMJHL, as the Quebec league is curiously one of the few hockey leagues in North America yet to stage an outdoor game.Said QMJHL commissioner Gilles Courteau in a press release:
"Outdoor games are great gathering events for a community and I'm sure the Shawinigan Cataractes, the oldest franchise in the League, will organize two great events. In addition, I would like to thank the Tigres and the Remparts who will collaborate in these inaugural games."
While the Ontario Hockey League played its outdoor games last New Year's Eve at Comerica Park in Detroit, the QMJHL is going to take its outdoor game to the smaller rodeo grounds in a town of just under 4000 just outside Shawinigan. The smaller site means the QMJHL can gauge the marketplace for an outdoor contest and are probably more likely to sell it out. The league lags behind its Western and Ontario counterparts in average attendance, although the fans who do show up tend to be louder and rowdier in smaller, older venues. The Western Festival grandstand has the advantage of an old-school backdrop that is sure to be complemented with vintage sweaters commonly found in outdoor games. The grandstands will reportedly be able to seat 7500 fans (some with obstructed views due to pillars) and a press row.
Per Steve Turcotte of Le Nouvelliste, this project has been in the works since 2004-2005, when the Cataractes first came to the QMJHL with the idea of hosting an outdoor game. The idea was rebuffed due to financial concerns, but Courteau publicly announced his interest in holding an outdoor game in 2012, and the Cats were the first to jump at the chance to host.
The town of Shawinigan did a fantastic job with the 2012 MasterCard Memorial Cup, and the final was one of the loudest hockey atmospheres I'd ever witnessed in person. However, the Cats have fallen on tough times since they went all in to win in 2012, winning just 35 games in two complete seasons since and their attendance at Centre BioNest has lagged as a result. Hopefully the team, after loading up on high draft picks in the last two drafts, is compelling enough of a reason to convince residents of Shawinigan and Trois-Rivières to drive those extra few miles for the outdoor contest.