Happy in BC
by Martin Merk|05 JAN 2019
From left to right: Franz Reindl, Luc Tardif, René Fasel, Tom Renney, Scott Smith.
photo: Matt Zambonin / HHOF-IIHF Images
Before the medal games, a press conference was held at Rogers Arena in Vancouver to wrap up and discuss the legacy of the 2019 IIHF World Junior Championship.

For IIHF President René Fasel the tournament was a success and coming back to Vancouver was surrounded by great memories from the 2006 World Juniors and the 2010 Olympics. “As a hockey fan you can never forget the emotions of the gold medal game where Sidney Crosby scored in overtime,” he said and sent special thanks to the over 800 volunteers.

“Everybody knows exactly what to do at the IIHF, Hockey Canada and organizer. We made a good choice in bringing the World Juniors to Canada every two years,” added Luc Tardif, the Chairman of the Tournament Directorate in Vancouver.

As part of a marketing contract that generates additional funding for international ice hockey, the tournament takes place in the country where it is most popular more often than anywhere else. Next will be in Edmonton and Red Deer in 2021 followed by 2024, 2026, 2028 and 2031.

“The World Juniors is a special experience, and a special event in Canada. We had over 300,000 fans, we celebrated the 100-year anniversary of BC Hockey and had pre-event games in ten cities. We are looking forward to hosting the 2020 Women’s Worlds and the 2021 World Juniors,” said Scott Smith, President and Chief Operation Officer of Hockey Canada.

“We have seen nothing short than a real celebration of hockey here. The soul of two communities and an entire province were witnessed here. At the end of the day we want young children to take up the sport when they have other choices to make in their lives,” said Hockey Canada’s Chief Executive Officer Tom Renney, who also praised the communities that hosted pre-event games and camps.

“It was very symbolic and outstanding. You can talk to any community. What resonates with me is how the communities engaged with the teams, how the communities were embraced. The volunteers around the province had the chance to get involved with it.”

Everybody who had the chance to go to the second venue, the Save-On-Foods Memorial Centre in Victoria, was enthusiastic on the work in the provincial capital as well. “It was an outstanding time there. Coming to Victoria and Vancouver in such a great atmosphere you can feel pure hockey. We had satisfied teams and if you have satisfied teams you have good sport. It’s just great for our sport and our game,” said Franz Reindl, the Chairman of the Tournament Directorate in Victoria. “What they did in Victoria was unbelievable and especially the Kazakh team received a warm welcome. It’s nice to see how sport brings us together.”

The 2019 World Juniors will end with a total attendance of over 300,000 and an average of over 10,000 fans in Vancouver and Victoria after the two remaining games today. Despite having a mid-sized arena as secondary venue this year, the event will end as the best-attended World Junior Championship since 2015 in Toronto and Montreal, and sixth in all-time attendance.

While most games were competitive and exciting, some challenged the number of ten participating teams based on the 14-0 score on the opening day between Canada and Denmark.

“Sometimes it happens. Denmark was not ready,” said Fasel. “We had some good results and close games. Our goal is to stay with 10 teams, some of our members even ask to go to 12. We have a contract until 2031 with 10 teams.”

Fasel also mentioned the example of Switzerland, a country that was in the relegation round in 2015 and 2016 (and would have been relegated if there were just eight teams) and made it to the semi-finals this year.

The only downside for Hockey Canada was of course the early elimination of its team in the quarter-finals against Finland but Smith confirmed that this has no financial impact as most tickets for the final two days were sold in advance.

Renney, a long time NHL and international coach before joining Hockey Canada as CEO, underlines the evolvement of the game also in other countries. And that’s needed to make hockey a global success.

“Other federations can compete very well and be more competitive against the traditional top teams. We have two very good teams playing in the final and two other very good teams playing for the bronze medal. You have to recognize that it is milliseconds and millimeters that can change the outcome and that makes it exciting,” Renney said.

Fasel expressed the excitement about the quality of the game here and also relates it to the narrower ice sheet in North America compared to the 30-on-60 metres usually used in Europe.

“The small ice here is perfect for the juniors. It is a different game. Also in women’s hockey. I personally think today we have the best game we have ever had. It’s a different game than we played 20 years back or even five years back. It has never been as good as now,” Fasel said and talks about discussions in the IIHF Council.

“In 2010 we decided to play on small ice [at the Olympics] and it was an exceptional tournament. The old guys in Europe are not so much in favour but speaking with younger guys, coaches, we maybe need a change. Our goal would be that in Beijing 2022 we will play on the small ice. We will ask the organizer in Beijing to play on small ice. And our goal is that in Finland in 2022 we play the World Championship on the small ice.

“It should be our goal to have the same size around the world. We have other ice sports playing on 60 on 30 metres but making it smaller for an event like for the recent NHL games in Europe is easier than extending it.”

In one year the IIHF World Junior Championship will go back to Europe for the first time since Helsinki in 2016. Ostrava and Trinec in the Czech Republic will be the hosts and the groups will be known later tonight after the gold medal game.

One question from the media was whether the success of the World Juniors can be replicated in Europe as well. Fasel mentioned the constantly increasing numbers the event recently had in Ufa (Russia, 2013), Malmo (Sweden, 2014) and Helsinki (Finland, 2016). Three years ago 215,226 fans came to watch the games in the Finnish capital.

“The women’s game and junior game in Europe has a different value. Even in football, which is the most popular game in Europe, it’s the same. But we had good numbers,” Fasel said.

Going into a hockey country like the Czech Republic, there are few worries that the next World Juniors in Europe will be a success even if the arenas are not as big as this year in Canada.

“The teams accept to come to Canada every two years to play it in this environment and they are getting better and better every year,” said Tardif. “It was a success in Finland, it was a success in Russia and it will be a success in the Czech Republic – but by European standards.”

First, however, it’s time to conclude the 2019 World Juniors with the final day. Russia and Switzerland play for bronze followed by the USA-Finland final.