2020 World Juniors a great European edition
by Martin Merk|05 JAN 2020
From left to right: Frank Gonzalez, René Fasel and Martin Urban.
photo: Matt Zambonin / HHOF-IIHF Images
Prior to the medal games of the 2020 IIHF World Junior Championship representatives of the International Ice Hockey Federation and the Czech Organizing Committee met with the media in Ostrava to summarize the tournament and answer questions.

“Thank you for what you did with your federation for hosting the championship here,” IIHF president RenĂ© Fasel said, addressing the Czech representatives. 

Fasel was impressed with the fan support and praised the fair ticket prices. Having joined the tournament for the final weekend, he also praised host broadcaster TSN – currently covering its 30th Word Juniors – for bringing the game to fans around the world. He also pointed out that the 2020 World Juniors were being broadcast in a record number of 12 countries, including in all participating countries along with Belarus and Ukraine. 

“We had great fan support both in Ostrava and Trinec and can express our complete satisfaction with the Czech organizing committee,” said Frank Gonzalez, who serves as Chairman of the Tournament Directorate.

Beside the loud, local fans creating a great atmosphere in mostly sold-out games, he also thanked fans coming from abroad in large numbers, especially from Canada in Ostrava and from Slovakia in Trinec.

“We had about 3,000 fans from Canada who follow the tournament on-site wherever it takes place. It would be good for European fans to come over to Edmonton and Red Deer next year to see the World Juniors the Canadian way. Next time in Europe it will be in Gothenburg [in 2022], and it will be a good place.”

Martin Urban, General Secretary of the Czech Ice Hockey Association, estimated that by the end of the day the total attendance would be 175,000 fans, making 2020 the second-most attended World Juniors in Europe.

“We can’t beat the Finnish record because we have smaller arenas, but we were at 81 per cent of capacity for the 31 games,” Urban said.

He continued: “Whenever anyone organizes this tournament there are always a few challenges. The success of the home team is always important, and you can make money or lose money based on that alone. I think we will break even. But more important than money is that we want to be a good organizer and host for the teams, the IIHF, fans, and media. If we don’t have problems from the outside, we have no problems. We want to be sure that whenever you are in our country, we are good hosts.”

The representatives also answered other questions from the media.

On concussions:

Fasel: “We have to be even stricter and educate players to respect opponents and make sure players keep their heads up. We started that much earlier than others, in 2001, and are more punitive than in some leagues. In some of our leagues in Europe they should be stricter. Players have become bigger and faster, which can create even more severe concussions. We speak with players, coaches and referees on a daily basis. It has become better, but it is still a concern.”

Gonzalez added: “It’s important to educate the players at this level but also coaches and team doctors to follow protocol.”

On discussions with Gary Bettman on the participation of NHL players at the 2022 Olympic Winter Games in Beijing.

Fasel: “We called each other just before the holiday season. We would like to have an answer as early as possible. In PyeongChang, there was a late “no”. As a result, the North American teams had problems building a good team for the Olympics with non-NHL players. If there’s a “no”, now those federations should have enough time to prepare. The earlier answer would also give us the opportunity to organize logistics because the demands are very high even though Beijing is a big city. We are working on an early decision with the NHL and NHLPA and we play the Final Olympic Qualification at the end of August. We would like to have a decision before that.”

“Our mission is to have best-of-best, and two thirds of the world’s population is in Asia. There is a market and Gary Bettman is a smart person and a very good businessman. I hope he will come. We need to promote hockey and there is no better platform to promote hockey than the Olympics. I’m optimistic. And if the NHL is not coming, we’ll do like we did in PyeongChang where we also had a good tournament and an interesting final, even though it’s not the same. For the game it would be good to go best-on-best.”

On the WADA decision about Russia and whether it will impact the 2023 IIHF World Junior Championship and 2023 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship that were assigned to Russia:

Fasel: “We had discussions with WADA, and the junior tournaments will not be under the suspension. But we are waiting on the decision of the Court of Arbitration in Lausanne.”

Note: The 2023 IIHF World Junior Championship has been assigned by the IIHF Congress to the city of Novosibirsk with Omsk as potential co-host in discussion.

On the question of a journalist who felt that the groups were unbalanced:

Fasel and Gonzalez answered that the groups are based on the ranking from last year to have a balanced and fair format.

On the idea of a World Ranking for junior hockey as in men’s and women’s senior hockey, using the results of the past four years, Martin Urban, a member of the IIHF Competition Committee, explained: “The seeding is strictly written in the Sport Regulations to be fairly based on the result one year before. In junior hockey, the teams are always quite different each year. That’s why we have stuck to the current system.”