Cold as Canada’s prairies can be in January, it warms my heart to hear the World Junior Championship is returning there.
Hockey Canada has announced the 2010 world juniors will be co-hosted by Saskatoon and Regina.
I’ve always enjoyed this tournament because it’s the highest level of hockey you’ll witness where all the participants still truly seem like they’re playing entirely for the love of the game. And since the best aspect of the world juniors is that none of the players are filthy rich, I think the event is at its best when played in a city bereft of NHL hockey.
Vancouver was the last Canadian city to host the world juniors. Ottawa will be the next one, when the 2009 version of the event kicks off this December. West coast fans showed overwhelming support of the tournament in 2006 as, surely, hockey fanatics in Canada’s capital will this winter.
But the innocence of the world juniors gets lost a bit when games are played in big shiny buildings in front of fans accustomed to NHL hockey. Not to get too maple syrupy on you, but a tournament for teenagers belongs in smaller barns packed by people getting exposure to the most elite hockey they’ll see for a long time. It creates an excitement in the building crowds used to world-class play can’t always muster, partially because they’re sitting in huge, cavernous arenas.
Of course, there’s big-time incentive for Hockey Canada to place the tournament in cities with large venues because of a simple math equation; more seats, more bums, more bucks.
But the victorious Regina-Saskatoon bid included a guarantee of $12.5 million in profit, half of which goes to Hockey Canada. That vast sum of money, coupled with the chance to give back to fans who live in areas where junior hockey is the best game in town, should be incentive enough to keep future world juniors in smaller cities.
I can’t wait to hear the good folks of Saskatchewan recapture that raucous roar I heard when Halifax played host to the world juniors in 2003. Or the shrill Saskatoon generated when John Slaney scored his famous game-winner against the Russians in ’91.
Something tells me that moment wouldn’t have quite been the same had that gold medal game been contested anywhere else.
The free agent frenzy of early July produces the same winners every summer. In case you can’t spot them, they’re the guys blessed enough to be compensated huge sums of money to play a game for a living. That notion, in my mind, gets more entrenched every single year.
As for the teams dolling out those monster contracts, now that the ink is dry, let’s take a moment to examine which clubs appear most improved after the madness of the past eight days.
Brian Campbell may not be the best defenseman in the league, but he was certainly the premier blueliner available during this period of unrestricted free agency. The smooth-skating puck-mover will provide an element previously lacking on the Hawks’ back end and will nicely compliment the emerging two-way talents of new teammate Duncan Keith. Throw Brent Seabrook into the mix and you start to understand why Chicago is excited about its defense corps.
As for signing Cristobal Huet to play goal, he’s by no means an elite stopper, but will be an upgrade in terms of stability compared to what the Hawks were getting from Nikolai Khabibulin.
San Jose Sharks
It might seem odd to list Campbell’s old team as a free agent winner given they lost his services, but Sharks GM Doug Wilson was on his toes and quickly went about filling the void with quality players.
Getting slick defenseman Dan Boyle via trade from Tampa Bay gives the Sharks a slight upgrade from Campbell. Boyle, who is three years older than Campbell, comes a little cheaper, too. Bringing veteran Rob Blake on board in a supporting role also strengthens the Sharks’ defense corps.
San Jose, a team that’s come up short of its potential numerous times in recent springs, also likes the fact Boyle and Blake come wearing Stanley Cup rings.
Detroit Red Wings
Speaking of rings, the best keep getting better. Not only does Detroit go out and land the most talented free agent available in Marian Hossa, they convince him to take a one-year deal, leaving the team plenty of options moving forward.
Being the premier organization in hockey on and off the ice sure provides some leverage.
Ryan Dixon is a writer and copy editor for The Hockey News magazine, the co-author of the book Hockey’s Young Guns and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog normally appears Wednesdays and his column, Top Shelf, appears Fridays.
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