An Overview of the 2024 Memorial Cup Playoffs

The largest sporting event ever held in the region will soon embark upon Saginaw

    Additional Reporting by
    icon May 16, 2024
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Saginaw has always been known as a basketball town.


It has produced a bevy of all-state players – both male and female – and a multitude of college cagers, as well as a number of professional basketball players. With Saginaw hosting the prestigious 2024 Memorial Cup presented by Dow, one could make the case of adding the sport of hockey to Saginaw’s lore.

It’s been dubbed the NCAA Final Four of Canada. Yes, it’s that big.

The Memorial Cup is the Canadian Hockey League’s championship and is celebrating its 105th year – an amazing tradition. The CHL is made up of three ice hockey leagues: the Western Hockey League, the Quebec League, and the Ontario Hockey League. The Spirit is part of the Ontario Hockey League and is the host team.


For the first time in the 104-year history of the Memorial Cup, a city in the state of Michigan will host the championship of the Canadian Hockey League and that city is Saginaw. It marks only the fourth time an American city has hosted the tournament. Portland, Seattle, and Spokane were the other previous sites.

“We are thrilled to bring the Memorial Cup to the state of Michigan for the first time in the event’s history,” said Canadian Hockey League President Dan MacKenzie. “The Spirit and Saginaw submitted a remarkable bid and we have no doubt that they will do an outstanding job of hosting our CHL championship.”

The Memorial Cup presented by Dow will take place over 10 days - from May 24 to June 2 – at the Dow Event Center. It is estimated that there will be more than 4,500 overnight stays in area hotel rooms tied to this event. According to Dr. Annette Rummel, President and CEO of the Great Lakes Bay Convention and Visitors Bureau, the tournament will bring an estimated $25-30-million to the region.

Spirit Brass Does its Homework

In 2019, Saginaw Spirit President and Managing Partner Craig Goslin attended the Memorial Cup Tournament in Halifax, Nova Scotia. That planted a seed as he and Spirit owner Richard Garber discussed the possibility of Saginaw landing the tournament.

Craig and I talked about it a few times over the years but the stars really had to align,” noted Garber. Spirit personnel and a contingent of community leaders then attended the 2023 tournament held in Kamloops, British Columbia. That’s when Goslin really envisioned that Saginaw could pull off such a feat.

“There are four components of the bidding process,” explained Goslin. “One is the quality of your hockey team. Two is the quality of your business operations. Third, is logistics, and the fourth is local atmosphere. We thought we had all of that covered and covered well.”

According to Goslin, before they could even submit their bid the Dow Event Center needed major upgrades. Saginaw County, which owns the facility, was planning on making needed improvements using millage money. The county was moving ahead with improvements regardless if the Spirit was awarded the Memorial Cup or not. However, Goslin said additional and substantial refurbishing needed to be done for the Memorial Cup bid. That refurbishing included all new suite areas, and visitors dressing rooms had to be completely redone, along with a modular dressing room so each team would have their own dressing rooms. The makeover included upper-level bathrooms, LED lighting, an LED advertising ribbon, and an elevator.

“We couldn’t have even submitted our bid without these renovations and we’re grateful to the Saginaw County Commissioners,” said Goslin, who added that when the Spirit season ended in June of 2023, Spence Brothers immediately went to work the very next day. “We were given set standards by the Memorial Cup committee. That’s when we got Kibbe & Associates on board for our design team. We put the plan in action and provided a schedule. Both Spence Brothers and Kibbe were on target.”

Spirit officials worked closely with the Go Great Lakes Bay CVB and the Saginaw County Chamber of Commerce to polish its official bid. Three other Ontario Hockey League teams also submitted bids – the Niagara IceDogs, Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds, and Kingston Frontenacs.

“Two weeks prior to the CHL’s decision, ‘I said if someone does better than us on those four components, they earned it.,’” remarked Goslin. The Spirit’s bid package ultimately wowed the CHL and the rest is history.

“On behalf of Dick Garber and the Saginaw Spirit franchise, we are grateful to the Memorial Cup Selection Committee,” said Goslin “It is an honor for the community of Saginaw and the 400,000 people that call the Great Lakes Bay Region home to be the host of the 2024 Memorial Cup. Saginaw is both honored and prepared. We respect and understand the significance that the Memorial Cup has in Canadian culture and we plan to illustrate this respect and honor throughout the event.”

“We’re incredibly excited to be hosting the Memorial Cup here in Saginaw, and it took the entire community to win the bid and get it here,” reflected Goslin. “You can go anywhere in the United States, and I don't care where you go, you're not going to find people who care more than the people here in Saginaw.”


Memorial Cup Has Rich Tradition

First awarded in 1919, the Memorial Cup pays tribute to Canadian soldiers who died in World War I. The trophy was rededicated in 2010 to honor all soldiers who died fighting for Canada in any conflict.

The Memorial Cup trophy was established by Captain James T. Sutherland to honor those who died in service during WWI. The trophy was originally known as the OHA Memorial Cup and was donated by the Ontario Hockey Association (OHA) in 1919 to be awarded to the junior ice hockey champion of Canada. From its inception until 1971, the Memorial Cup was open to all Junior A teams in the country and was awarded following a series of league, provincial and regional playoffs culminating in an east–west championship.

The three-league tournament format began in 1972, a season after the Canadia Amateur Hockey Association divided the Junior A rank into two tiers, naming the Memorial Cup as the championship of the Major Junior level. Capt. Sutherland, who was serving overseas, was president of the Ontario Hockey Association and he brought forward the idea to present a trophy to honor all the young Canadian hockey players who died in battle and have it awarded to the best junior hockey team in Canada. The Ontario Hockey Association (OHA)'s annual meeting was unanimous that a fitting memorial be established to members of the OHA who had fallen on the field of war.

“Most of the kids on our team are Canadian and understand the significance of the event,” said Goslin. “For many Canadian boys, playing in the Memorial Cup is the pinnacle. Everything we do is geared toward those players' development and their ability to cherish this experience. I'm so happy for them and this will be a moment they will remember for the rest of their lives. When they're 70 years old, they'll tell their grandkids that they competed in the Memorial Cup here in Saginaw. Telling those kids that we won the bid and seeing the looks on their faces – I'll never forget that moment.”


Building an On-Ice Presence

One of the key factors in hosting the Memorial Cup is putting a solid team on the ice. And that falls on the Spirit’s management team of Garber, Goslin, General Manager Dave Drinkill, and Head Coach Chris Lazary. The four-person contingent is basically in control of the team and every individual players status on the team via player contracts. Saginaw made huge strides during the 2022-23 season with a 36-27-2 record and advanced to the second round of the Ontario Hockey League playoffs.

But the team had an appetite for more for the 2023-24 campaign. Through careful planning the organization made several key acquisitions. Over the past year and a half Drinkill has been quietly building a solid roster to position the Spirit to put its best skate forward for the Memorial Cup run.

Over that span the Saginaw GM has made a total of 14 player transactions, including bringing in key pieces to the squad with the likes of Rodwin Dionicio, Ethan Hay, Nolan LaLonde, Will Bishop, Braden Hache, James Guo, Nicholas Sima, and Hunter Haight.

When it comes down to making a trade, Spirit general manager Dave Drinkill admits that it’s a team effort.

“I’m the GM but I bounce ideas off all of the others,” said Drinkill, “Chris (Lazary) and I need to be on the same page. We’re constantly communicating and trying to improve our team. I will talk with (assistant GM) Brian Prout and my scouting staff and I rely on their feedback. I think it’s good to ask questions. Maybe there’s things I haven’t thought of and they offer input. I bring every deal to Dick (Garber), Goose (Goslin), and Brandon (Bordeaux). They have the final word.”

Dave Drinkill handles all hockey operations,” explained Goslin. “He will review and obtain approval from ownership, but that is what we hire him for . . . to run our hockey operations. He is our hockey operational lead and has very professionally built the current Memorial Cup roster of this team through the draft and the trade he has made.”

“He (Drinkill) has an excellent relationship with Dick Garber, (partner) Brandon Bordeaux and myself,” continued Goslin. “Dave will review the ‘Why,’ ‘What,’ ‘When,’ of any deal he is considering with ownership. At the end of the day, he has the ultimate call on building the roster. Mr. Garber, as majority owner of the Spirit, will always ensure that the team additions are responsible, but always respects Dave Drinkill’s direction as do I.”

Spirit Guaranteed Three Games

The host Saginaw Spirit hockey team will be guaranteed at least three games in the round-robin format. The full 2024 Memorial Cup presented by Dow schedule:

Friday, May 24 – WHL Champion vs. Saginaw Spirit – 7:30 p.m.
Saturday, May 25 – OHL Champion vs. QMJHL Champion – 4:00 p.m..
Sunday., May 26 – Saginaw Spirit vs. QMJHL Champion – 7:30 p.m.
Monday., May 27 – OHL Champion vs. WHL Champion – 7:30 p.m.
Tuesday., May 28 – QMJHL Champion vs. WHL Champion – 7:30 p.m.
Wednesday., May 29 – Saginaw Spirit vs. OHL Champion – 7:30 p.m..
Thursday., May 30 – Tie-breaker (if necessary) – 7:30 p.m.
Friday, May 31 – Semi-final – 7:30 p.m.
Sunday, June 2 – Final – 7:30 p.m.

* Start times subject to change

Events Galore Dot the 10-day Tourney

Everything will kick off on Thursday, May 23rd with the Arrival of the Cup Parade and Ceremony from 4-5:30 p.m., which is presented by LiUNA, and includes a flyover.

The Fan Fest presented by UA Local 85 will act as the destination in Saginaw for the tournament’s concert and speaker series, viewing parties for each Memorial Cup game, food and beverage options, official event merchandise, and much more. This will be held at Jolt Event Park. The City of Saginaw will be blocking off Johnson Street to all traffic, leading to a campus-type atmosphere.

Among the many events being held at the UA Local 85 Fan Fest will be the Spirit of the Community Entertainment and Speaker Series. Over the 10 days of the tournament, fans will experience daily entertainment including music from some of Michigan’s most beloved bands and musicians, such as The Accidentals, Jedi Mind Trip, Todd Hall, and Larry McCray. The main headliner will be country artist Walker Hayes who will perform at the Jolt Event Park on on Saturday, June 1st. Guests will also enjoy an engaging speaker series that will touch on a variety of topics, including Hockey in Saginaw, the Detroit Red Wings, and the importance of inclusion, diversity, and equity.

Additionally, inside the UA Local 85 Fan Fest, guests will also get to experience Food Truck Alley presented by Bavarian Inn Lodge, which will provide fans with local food offerings from some of the best in the state. This is all in addition to the interactive skill games from TopShot Hockey, face painting, and the STEM science station that together will help make the Fan Fest a must-see stop for everyone at the 2024 Memorial Cup presented by Dow. Additional events include:

Christmas with the Cup presented by DML Management Inc. (June 1 @ Zehnder Park in Frankenmuth): With Frankenmuth known as being the home to the Largest Christmas Store in the World along with providing that Hallmark movie atmosphere, Christmas with the Cup will give fans a chance to experience that feeling where carols will be sung, ornaments will be decorated while cocoa and coffee will be served all in the presence of both Santa Claus and the Memorial Cup.

Ice Cream Social presented by Michigan Sugar (May 26 from 12 p.m. – 1 p.m. @ UA Local 85 Fan Fest / Jolt Credit Union Event Park): A family-friendly event to celebrate community and acknowledge that “Life is SWEETER when we are together”. All who attend this event will enjoy a complimentary scoop of Michigan’s Cream and Sugar ice cream, which is made right in the Great Lakes Bay Region with Michigan Sugar and other local ingredients.

Memorial Cup Ball Hockey Celebration presented by White Orthodontics (May 25 & 26 @ 321 N Washington Avenue, Outside the Dow Event Center): Organized by the Greater Saginaw Amateur Hockey Association, interested participants aged 5-12 can register a team or as individuals in this 3-on-3 ball hockey event – registration and participation in this event includes an official Memorial Cup jersey.

Memorial Cup Youth Skills Clinics presented by Zehnder’s of Frankenmuth (May 27 – May 29 @ the Saginaw-Bay Ice Arena): With four on-ice development sessions planned (10U, 12U/14U & 8U as well as a session dedicated to girls aged 9-14), aspiring players and goalies can register for this unique opportunity to improve their skills while being inspired by Saginaw Spirit alumni and clubs participating in the 2024 Memorial Cup

Fan Breakfast (May 27 from 9 a.m. – 12 p.m. @ SVRC Marketplace Building – 2nd Floor Ballroom): Set to be held the morning of Memorial Day, fans of all ages are welcome to come to take part in a delicious breakfast buffet that will also feature bucket drop prize opportunities, a pin exchange, and a silent auction. At $20 USD a ticket, guests will also have a chance to meet some Saginaw Spirit alumni and see the Memorial Cup up close. Those interested in attending can email Amber Shutsa at  to RSVP their spot.

The Oh Canada, Oh Carrollton Pub Crawl will be held on Sunday, May 26th from 2-8 p.m. Participating watering holes include Bruce’s Bar, Heck’s Bar, Big Bill’s Bar, and Merl’s Tavern. For $25, pub crawlers will receive a specially-designed Memorial Cup Pub Crawl tee-shirt, a coozie, and drink coupons for all establishments.

All games from the 2024 Memorial Cup will be nationally televised in Canada by TSN and RDS as well as on NHL Network in the United States. Locally, it can be views on WNEM TV-5+. Additionally, all the games will be streamed live on the big screen in Jolt Event Park which is directly across the street from the Dow Event Center.

Please note: Dow Event Center is cashless as well as the parking ramp. The Event Center also has a strict bagless policy which can be found on its website –

Event planners busy, busy, busy

About a year and a half ago, the Saginaw Spirit organization made two key acquisitions to their front office staff. They hired Kayla Pionk as Local Event Manager for the 2024 Memorial Cup, and Jimmy Greene as Special Event Sales Director.

If there’s a civic organization in the Great Lakes Bay Region, they’ve spoke at it. The hard-working duo made presentations to numerous civic groups, organizations, businesses, volunteers, and community officials in all three counties explaining the ins and outs of the 2024 Memorial Cup presented by Dow.

Additionally, the Spirit organization is relying on the community to step up as volunteers/ambassadors during the Memorial Cup. Mitzi Brown took the lead role in organizing efforts for the 500-plus volunteers who will be assisting the Spirit in the many facets of both on and off-ice events.

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