Has the World Juniors Championship Lost it's Flavour?
With Canada defeating Sweden 3-1 to win their 17th World Juniors title, glory has come back to the Great White North. After two disappointing tournaments that saw Canada get eliminated in the quarterfinals by Patrik Laine’s Finland in 2016, and their rivals USA in a shootout at the gold medal game in 2017, I loved seeing Canada hoist the trophy once again. But there was something about the 2018 tournament hosted in Buffalo that did not make me excited to watch international hockey as much as watching Canada win the 2015 tournament on home soil.
Lack of Atmosphere
In my opinion, I thought the tournament atmosphere lacked passion. If you look at the tournament attendance hosted at the KeyBank Center (home of the Buffalo Sabres), the crowds were small, boring & very quiet even when Team Canada was playing. For somebody who watched the entire tournament on the television screen, you could hear a pin drop at the rink. I was not surprised when I read so many tweets during the tournament about the lack of attendance during the games. The only time I was truly excited was the outdoor game that brought out the kid in me. Playing outside in the snowy conditions against rivals, USA at the NewEra Field was remarkable to see, with the junior tournament record of 44,000+ in attendance. Now what did cause the tournament’s attendance failure overall? Well one of the reason must be the pricing of the tickets. When you are charging NHL priced tickets, expect it to scare off some fans. Another reason it may have lost its flavour, has to be the geography of where the tournament been through. In 2015, the tournament was hosted by Montreal and Toronto then last year, the tournament was once again hosted by the two same cities. The distance between Toronto and Buffalo is 159 KM apart. Of course, fans might be a little tired of the tournament considering how close the two cities are and that Toronto has hosted it twice in the last 4 years. Finally, it may have to do with the fact that Buffalo is an NHL-NFL city. Even during the 2011 tournament when Buffalo hosted the tournament, the fan support for the American team was low and heavily outnumbered by Canadian fans. The lack of local support really hurt the tournament. The idea of hosting an outdoor game was creative but just having another tournament in the states at the same city that hosted 7 years ago.
So how can you rebuild the fan passion for the world juniors? In the two pregame tournaments that Canada played, they sold out the Budweiser Gardens in London and sold out the FirstOntario Centre in Hamilton. What both cities share in common, is that they both have OHL teams in their city. What I say Hockey Canada should do is go back to their roots when junior markets mainly hosted in Canada. Even though 2012 that was hosted by Calgary and Edmonton is considered the most successful tournament, I really loved 2010 when Regina and Saskatoon hosted because it showed the smaller market passion for hockey. London for sure deserves to host a world juniors tournament when it’s considered the best junior market in Canada. When bidding for 2019, London-Windsor was one of the front runners before losing out to Vancouver-Victoria. So the next bid Hockey Canada makes for a future tournament, the other cities that I think should host as well are Kelowna, Kitchener, Halifax, Red Deer, Saint John & Moncton considering how strong their junior markets are in terms of fan support.
I want to see that passion back for the tournament, which it has been lacking these last few years.