CALGARY – Prior to the gold medal game IIHF President René Fasel, IIHF Vice President and Tournament Chairman Murray Costello and Hockey Canada President/CEO Bob Nicholson addressed the media about a variety of topics.
The most discussed ones were the success of the tremendous 2012 IIHF World Junior Championship, taking over the popularity to Europe and player safety, notably concussions. The IIHF hereby announced a new working committee on player safety that will be set up and chaired by Costello.
2012 World Juniors set new records
René Fasel opened the press conference with the remark that 10 out of 36 IIHF World Junior Championships have taken place in Canada – and the number will be growing with a new marketing contract that will bring the World Juniors to Canada every second year beginning in 2015.
That the 2012 IIHF World Junior Championship would set new records was already clear last January when all ticket packages were sold out immediately after Buffalo, leaving a huge waiting list behind.
Bob Nicholson announced that 571,000 tickets were sold through packages – up from 453,282 compared to the 2009 edition in Ottawa that held the previous record.
Total attendance was estimated at 444,718 – up from 359,000 in Ottawa.
“We had not only the Canadian games sold out, but 14-15,000 for other games. The feedback from all the teams has been tremendous,” Nicholson said.
An estimated 35,000 visitors came to Alberta to watch the games in Calgary and Edmonton. “They’re talking about an economic impact of $90 million for the province,” Nicholson said.
“It was just an excellent tournament. In Ottawa I was thinking it simply couldn’t get better than this,” said Costello. “But how the people in Alberta responded to the tournament is pretty remarkable. I don’t know how it could be better than this. Alberta set a new standard.”
He also praised the fact that Canadians streamed into the arenas to watch not only their teams, but also games involving world-class players from other parts of the world.
“Efforts were specially made so the seats will be filled. Fans saw high-level European games, which is a good thing for us. We learn from each other,” Costello said.
“As chairman, I’m really proud what happened here, both for the IIHF and as a Canadian. To have an event of this calibre helps the game grow globally.”
Huge profit – for hockey in Canada and around the world
The biggest World Juniors ever also set new financial records. “It looks like the profit will be around the $20-million mark,” Nicholson said. The previous record had been at $13.5 million in Saskatchewan 2010.
“We have a strong partnership with the International Ice Hockey Federation and this tournament has gone to another level ever since Murray Costello has been part of the 1986 event in Hamilton,” Nicholson said.
The money will serve grassroots hockey all around the world.
“Money will go back to the Canadian Hockey League, Hockey Alberta as the host branch and we will share it with our 13 branches,” Nicholson said. “Now we’re also starting to share with the IIHF for their development programs. So the money will touch every part of the world.”
Making the World Juniors bigger in Europe
After four straight and successful years in North America, the event will go back to Europe for the next two years, first in Ufa, Russia, and in two years in Malmö, Sweden.
North American journalists fear that the event will not have such exposure in the next two years, but staging it also in Europe is part of growing the event globally.
“Junior sports and women’s sports are not very big in Europe, not even in football, which is the most popular sport,” Fasel said. “But it’s growing and having Sweden-Russia in the final, and hosting it in these two countries in the next two years, will make an impact.”
“Canadian hockey fans are amazing. I would love to have them all over the world,” Fasel said. “With the new contract we will find solutions. Everybody is winning. Especially our sport is winning.”
“Having the IIHF World Junior Championship in Canada every second year is also a great opportunity to have something in Canada, also because the IIHF World Championship doesn’t work here like it does in Europe,” the IIHF President said. “It is really special to be here, but we have to keep the balance.”
The events in 2015, ’17, ’19 and ’21 will be held in Canada while the slots in between are reserved for other countries to bring the event to Europe and the United States.
Nicholson remains positive that the organizers of the next two events in Russia and Sweden will be able to set up high-profile events.
“Ufa and Malmö had people who were here. We webcast the games around the world and are looking into TV rights worldwide. We work more and more with the IIHF. These are platforms that will also help the local organizations,” Nicholson said.
“There’s been a hurdle to overcome in junior hockey. In Europe junior hockey is seen as development,” Costello explained. “Only in the recent years with the success [of the World Juniors] in Canada have people realized that junior hockey is a marketable product with entertaining hockey. We have to be a little bit patient, and I think the event will come much closer to Canada in Europe than it is now.”
While Ufa in 2013 and Malmö in 2014 are set as hosts, Canadians are wondering where the next World Juniors in the motherland of hockey will be held. And they ask how big the chance is to bring it back to Alberta in 2015 after this year’s successful event. But Nicholson feels that it is not going to happen that soon considering the vast size of the country.
“This tournament has never been played in Toronto. It was never been played in Montreal since our Program of Excellence,” Nicholson said. “We had it in Vancouver, in Winnipeg. The country is so big and I hope when we have the bids, it will help build arenas in cities like Quebec City and Halifax.”
“We are going to start to look in the process what’s being in 2015, 17, 19, 21,” he added.
More competitive on the ice
What everybody noted is the rising competitiveness between the top teams. That made Canada settle for bronze.
“We won the last game we played in the tournament. It wasn’t the game we wanted to be in,” Nicholson said about the performance of the home team. “One of the things that motivated them in the bronze medal game is all the fans that cared about them.”
“What we’re finding out here is that there are no easy ways anymore,” Costello added. “You need to excel in any position to get to the gold medal game. We saw some outstanding goaltending here.”
New working committee on player safety
One big issue addresses at the media conference is player safety and the topic of concussions that concerns the hockey community worldwide.
“Concussions have been a concern for us for many years. The numbers are going up and we are trying to find a solution,” Fasel said. “The goal and the mission for us is the safety of players.”
The IIHF President announced to the media that two weeks ago at a meeting of the IIHF’s Council (board) in Moscow the creation of a new working committee on player safety was fixed with Murray Costello as its chairman.
“He was the first person to start these symposiums on concussions ten years ago. We really worked hard to implement rules, and Murray will have the mission also to work close together with the NHL as they also have a working group,” Fasel said.
What will the committee do next?
“It’s kind of a look at the state of the game. We have been looking at that through different committees and now we will have a special committee,” Costello said. “We want to bring in the people within the IIHF family and include specialists like medical experts, former players – think of the job Brendan Shanahan is doing for the NHL – and equipment specialists.”
“There’s a lot that has been done, but a lot has to be done. We want to find the best people to find the problems in the game and to overcome them.”
Costello added that the IIHF is working in this aspect also with medical specialists from other team sport federations like football, handball, volleyball, rugby and hear their concerns and fears on concussions.
“We will look at different things. The speed of the game, the rules, the bodychecking, the equipment, the redline-offside rule. All what we look at is to keep hockey as spectacular as it can be and respect the players. It doesn’t make sense to take out players with head shots. We have to address that with the best possible way. This won’t be short term. It will take some time, but we will look at it in a comprehensive way.”
It is important to set the right tone and deliver the right message already at the junior level.
“To a reasonable degree we had less head injuries here. We have set the tone in a more disciplined way. Progress is been made,” Costello said. “I think the players are learning at this age to respect each other and not to take head shots. We have to educate the players and that’s a good level to do that.”
Szymon Szemberg, the IIHF Communication Director, added that five players received suspensions totalling 13 games for checking to the head-and-neck area in Buffalo 2011. “This year we just had one player and one game,” he said.
Asked about the role of fighting in the new committee, Costello replied that it will not specifically be part of the review as it’s not a big factor in the international game. “From the international side this part seems to be under control,” he said.
“That players with concussion symptoms leave the bench and go to a dark room only with a doctor to determine whether he should play or not is a big step for hockey,” Costello said.
- René Fasel about the 2014 Olympics in Sochi and the yet to be determined NHL participation: “We have very good discussions. Our doors are open.”
- Bob Nicholson on the development of women’s hockey: “Over the last 14 months there has been more activity on women’s hockey than in the last 14 years. It’s not going to happen overnight. The IIHF is involved in global initiatives and René [Fasel] is putting a lot of pressure on many countries. We need women’s hockey in Canada, but we also need women’s hockey in other countries.”
- René Fasel added: “We need some help to grow the women’s game, but I’m confident that for the Olympic Games in Korea in 2018 we will have much more competition.”
- René Fasel on political requests to revoke Belarus from hosting the 2014 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship: “We discussed that in the Council and Congress. The Congress decided to go to Belarus in 2014. We are away from political discussions.”
- Bob Nicholson on Hockey Canada’s request to move the NHL draft-eligible age from 18 to 19: “We had further discussions with a lot of general managers over the last numbers of weeks and with the NHLPA here and they’re all looking at the data we’ve given them. It will all be part of the collective bargaining.”