Atlético Ottawa could give Hunt a trifecta of championships in Ottawa

Soccer club teams up with Canadian Blood Services in “Save a Life” initiative for home opener April 13.

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Jeff Hunt is attempting to pull off what would surely be a never-before-completed trifecta during the upcoming Canadian Premier League season.

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He is aiming to guide a third team, residing in the same city, to a league title from the owner’s box.

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Hunt, you’ll remember, was the proprietor of the 67’s when they won the Memorial Cup in 1999, as well as president/co-owner of the Redblacks when they ended a 40-year year drought by bringing the Grey Cup back to Ottawa in 2016.

Now he believes he has a good chance to hoist yet another trophy at TD Place.

“I think we’re going to have a solid team that’s going to compete to be league champions this year,” said Hunt, the president and partner of Atlético Ottawa who in recent years has also become owner of Ottawa Valley Meats. “We have a lot to look forward to in our fifth season, but it’s also, in a way, our third real season. We started the team in 2020, so the first year we played (during the pandemic) in a bubble. The second year we started in August, so we had a partial season and our first game was the first ever sporting event or public gathering outside since COVID, and we didn’t know how people were going to react.

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“We won the OHL championship in my third year with the 67’s … I know we won the Memorial Cup in the first year, but that was not an expansion team … and in the third year of the RedBlacks we won the Grey Cup. So I’m hoping that three times is a charm and in our third real full season of Atlético we can win the CPL championship.

“For me, the idea of a trifecta is pretty motivating. It’s not just a cherry on top (of his career) … it would be a pretty significant thing.”

Last season, Atlético Ottawa finished the 28-game schedule with 10 wins, six draws and 12 losses for 36 points, two behind York United, which provides the opposition for the local side in its 2024 “Save a Life” home opener at TD Place on April 13.

In a joint initiative with its latest community partner, Canadian Blood Services, the club is encouraging supporters attending the match to sign up for the Canadian Blood Services Stem Cell Registry. The process, which takes less than five minutes, involves having your cheek swabbed and filling out a form with some basic personal information that will be kept confidential.

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Currently there are more than 1,000 Canadians searching for a life-saving stem cell match.

“I think it’s the obligation of sports teams, with their profile and the platform that we’re given, to do good things in the community, just like we expect our players to be good role models,” said Hunt. “So to start the season with a community- minded venture like this is very in keeping with who we’re trying to be in the city.

“And I want to start on that note at the beginning of the year and end in November with what I hope will be the first championship for professional men’s soccer in the history of Ottawa.”

Hunt thinks Ottawa is ready to become a soccer city.

“In my opinion, one of the reasons why soccer is on the grow in Canada is that, historically, Canada has not been that good at soccer on the world stage,” he said. “We’re proud of our hockey because of our success. But now that we’re starting to see success on the men’s and women’s (soccer teams) ….

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“I think for a community, Ottawa has not got a history of being a soccer city. We’re a football town, we’re a hockey town, but soccer is still kind of making its way. I believe that the pride the city would have in its soccer team is going to be linked to the success. We were big CFL fans back in the day because we had great teams that won Grey Cups. And the 67’s, we won championships. Even the Senators had a Stanley Cup or two in their back history.

“I think when you win a championship, all of a sudden the sport becomes more important to the city than it otherwise would have been. And you start to identify as yeah, we’re a soccer city. We’re growing every year. We’ve had double-digit increases in attendance every season, and this year we expect to be again double-digit increases.”

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Hunt acknowledges that every year all teams start out with hope and expectations. At the same time, he also stops just short of making guarantees for Atlético Ottawa in 2024.

“We’re very optimistic,” he said. “We’re very happy this was the hardest offseason we’ve had in the history of the team. Even harder than the offseason of our first year, when we were building a team from scratch, but it has paid dividends. (CEO)  Fernando (Lopez) and (head coach) Carlos (Gonzalez), they work unbelievably hard. Every key player is a major, major effort to get. And, you know, I think we’ve got a really, really promising team that should be very dominant in the league.

“It’s not always the case. Some years, you know, going into seasons, especially in junior hockey, you know, you’re going to have a rebuilding year. And your expectations are tempered. It’s more about development and building up again, or re-loading as they say. But in this case we know we have we have a very, very strong team. Now we just have to execute. As is always the case.”

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