GELSENKIRCHEN – One reason the 2010 IIHF World Championship will be remembered for a long time is unquestionably the opening game. A capacity crowd of more than 76,000 fans will witness the USA-Germany game and likely a new world attendance record at Veltins Arena in Gelsenkirchen, the stadium of the football team Schalke 04.
The game, which starts on Friday at 20:15, is expected to break the old record of 74,554 spectators, set in a 2001 game between Michigan State University and the University of Michigan. And it will also break the World Championship record attendance of 55,000 spectators, set in the 1957 World Championship in Moscow when the deciding game between the Soviets and Sweden was played in the Lenin Stadium (now: Luzhniki Stadium).
The venue is definitely not the most typical place to open the IIHF World Championship. Gelsenkirchen is not necessarily known as a hockey power in Germany, but more as one of the most important coal mining towns of the 20th century, and for its football tradition.
Schalke 04 is one of the most legendary clubs in German football. It is also known as the most famous blue-collar club due to Gelsenkirchen’s past as a mining city.
There's also an amateur and junior hockey club that’s affiliated with the organization, EHC Gelsenkirchen Schalker Haie. The hockey team made headlines in 1994 when the club, then a semi-pro team in the third division, signed Czech superstar Jaromir Jagr for one game during the lockout. The Pittsburgh sniper racked up one goal and ten assists.
In the last few years Schalke’s football team, which won the last of its eight championships in 1958, was known for falling short of league titles, being the runner-up in 2001, 2005, 2007 and 2010 and calling itself the “champion of the heart". Just one week ago Schalke 04 lost the title run to Bayern Munich.
In contrast with Schalke’s general blue-collar reputation is the stadium that opened in 2001. It’s one of Europe’s fanciest football stadiums with a retractable roof and a slide-out pitch. And it will offer a great opportunity to celebrate world-class hockey in great fashion in the football-crazed country.
Many things have changed at Veltins Arena (click here for a webcam), as it took six days to make the stadium ready to host the record-setting ice hockey game. The stadium has space for 61,673 fans for football games, but additional tribunes were built between the normal seats and the rink, bringing in some 450 tons of steel. 35 persons worked around the clock to built up the additional seats and 25 more persons to construct the ice rink.
More than 100,000 people are expected in or around the stadium. The Fan Fest opens at 14:00 with a stage program, food and drinks before the gates open at 17:15.
Officials of both teams will welcome the crowd with a warm-up game before the welcome show, “Germany on Ice”, begins at 17:40.
An old-timers game starts around 18:00 with Germany’s “100 plus legends” (all team members have played at least 100 games for the national team) and the Gazprom team with greats of Russian and Soviet hockey, captained by IIHF Council member and Russian league president Alexander Medvedev.
The game will feature big names from both nations like Valeri Kamensky, Alexander Yakushev, Andrei Kovalenko, Alexei Kasatonov, Didi Hegen and Peppi Heiss.
German TV moderator Claudia Kleinert and Germany-based Ukrainian boxing star Wladimir Klitschko will conduct live interviews at the game.
In addition, the warm-up with Team USA and the German national team will be special, as they will use green pucks to highlight a new anti-doping campaign of the IIHF and WADA. A video with hockey celebrities, promoting the fight against doping and drugs, will be published on Friday on IIHF.com.
Scooter, the German techno band that produced the official World Championship song, “Stuck on Replay”, as well as the official mascot Urmel, will also perform before the big game begins on 20:15.
German Federal President Horst Köhler, IIHF President René Fasel, and German Ice Hockey Association President Uwe Harnos will make opening speeches before the national teams of the United States and Germany take to the ice for an unforgettable evening.