Grab a Memorial Cup title, with an NHL team likely to follow, and all of a sudden, a hockey town is exactly how outsiders could start to view the greater Seattle region.

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Our city is likely still a few years from gaining an NHL franchise. But a Kent-based hockey squad bearing the Seattle name is playing for the biggest title in that sport since the Seattle Metropolitans claimed the Stanley Cup a century ago.

The Memorial Cup tournament in Windsor, Ontario, is Canadian junior hockey’s annual championship showcase and a really big deal north of the border. In an interesting twist, this year’s 99th edition of the tournament features two American teams with the Seattle Thunderbirds and the Pennsylvania-based Erie Otters qualifying.

The Thunderbirds gained entry by winning the Western Hockey League (WHL) championship for the first time. On the quirky scale, thanks to league expansion beyond traditional borders, the Pennsylvania team from Erie is the Ontario Hockey League (OHL) champ, while the New Brunswick-based Saint John Sea Dogs are the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL) winners despite neither being from those provinces.

Rounding out the field is the host Windsor Spitfires, also from the OHL.

The Thunderbirds played in a Memorial Cup as an automatic host entry in 1992 in games at the Seattle Coliseum, losing 8-3 to WHL champ Kamloops in the semifinals after going 1-2 in round-robin play.

Spokane is the only Washington-based team to win a Memorial Cup, in 2008 and 1991. Portland was the first U.S.-based team to win one in 1983 — doing so as a host city — and added another championship in 1998.

Making the tournament on merit — as the Thunderbirds did this year — is what all teams shoot for, but being a host squad can prove lucrative. Not only for the automatic chance at a title, but because of the business surrounding the tournament.

All the games are televised nationally in English on Sportsnet and in French on TVA Sports.

And because of the TV celebrity and future NHL stars playing, the games typically draw well. This year’s games take place at the 6,500-seat WFCU Centre, a venue built in 2008 and similar in size to the Thunderbirds’ home at the ShoWare Center in Kent.

The Canadian Hockey League (CHL) selection committee awards the tournament about a year in advance, gauging whether a potential host team has a strong enough nucleus to contend the following season. Next year’s host, the Regina Pats, just lost the WHL title in six games to Seattle.

Also, the Memorial Cup hosts tend to bolster their rosters in-season to avoid embarrassment. In 1990, the first and only Memorial Cup I covered in Hamilton, Ontario, the host city’s team was so bad that its automatic entry was revoked midseason and replaced by the OHL finalist Kitchener Rangers.

So, host teams try to act like they belong. Seattle in 1991-92 made the WHL division finals and lost to eventual Memorial Cup champion Kamloops.

But as the money surrounding the tournament grows, there’s been controversy over how host cities are selected. Though this year’s venue is more akin to a typical junior facility, there have been allegations of selection committees recently favoring bigger arenas to maximize profits.

The Saskatoon Blades hosted the 2013 tournament at their 15,000-seat arena, followed by the London Knights in a 9,000-seat venue in 2014 and the Quebec Remparts at their former 15,000-seat home in 2015. Things returned more to scale last year with Red Deer, Alberta, hosting in a 7,100-seat facility.

Red Deer claimed it drew 10,000 visitors from outside its town of 100,000 that wouldn’t have normally visited. Economic spin-offs from hotels, retail and restaurant spending was said to be $13 million.

Still, there are risks to hosting.

Saskatoon claimed it generated $19 million in spin-offs in 2013. But the event fell short of generating the $3.5 million profit the bid committee had promised the CHL, leaving the Saskatchewan government to cover the remaining $667,000.

The city of Windsor this year spent $1 million on arena upgrades for the tourney, which it hopes will generate between $10 million and $17 million in spin-offs. Just last month, the CHL also asked the city to waive an additional $78,000 in arena rental fees — but withdrew the request after a public outcry.

Windsor’s team ownership group assumed all costs for player transportation and lodging. They’ve told reporters they hope to at least break even.

There are fewer seats to sell in Windsor’s smaller venue than in Saskatoon — making projections easier — but they need to be priced higher to cover costs.

Face-value tickets for non-Windsor games are a steep $75 Canadian apiece ($56 U.S.), and Spitfires contests are $90 each ($67 U.S.) on a first-come, first-serve basis.

Could Seattle host the Memorial Cup again? Well, if a revamped KeyArena or new Sodo arena is completed before May 2020 — when the WHL next stages the event — we could. As long as we have no NHL team yet, because the tourney conflicts with the Stanley Cup playoffs.

But the Thunderbirds and Everett Silvertips both fit the CHL’s desire for strong teams with relatively new suburban arenas. Kent and Everett are also close enough to downtown Seattle for big-city allure without the tournament getting lost in it.

You know what else would help? The Thunderbirds winning this area’s first Memorial Cup, although that task is harder after losing their first two games.

After all, they typically award the tournament to hockey towns. Grab a Memorial Cup title, with an NHL team likely to follow, and all of a sudden, a hockey town is exactly how outsiders could start to view the greater Seattle region.