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Hockey Canada badly misjudged the hockey fans in Montreal

Arizona-born phenom Auston Matthews is the early favorite for No. 1 overall in the 2016 NHL draft, but he'll have to decide before then whether he'll go the major junior or U.S. college route. His rights are owned by the Everett Silvertips of the Western League.
The Hockey News

The Hockey News

MONTREAL - A few random thoughts as your correspondent packs up and heads back to Toronto for the medal round of the World Junior Championship:

* The next time our friends at Hockey Canada and TSN remind us how important this tournament is to Canada’s hockey identity and cultural fabric – and that should happen in say, the next 30 seconds or so – it might be relevant to point out that only one in 10 Canadians actually watched Canada's preliminary-round games on television and, in Montreal at least, that patriotism has definitive limit.

The attendance figures for this event in Montreal were a disaster. The fact that there were 5,500 empty seats for Canada’s game against Finland and about 3,000 for the New Year’s Eve game against USA indicate Hockey Canada badly misjudged this market. The attendance at the games not involving Canada were downright pathetic.

There was a myriad of reasons for this. Having the tournament in two different venues almost 350 miles apart didn’t help. Forcing people to buy expensive ticket packages and waiting until a month before the event to sell single-game tickets was another. Assuming people in Montreal would pay north of $300 for junior hockey – even with the best teenagers in the world – was perhaps the most egregious. Hockey fans in Montreal, for the large part, are a far less corporate crowd in Toronto and might be willing to part with that kind of money for the NHL experience, but not for junior hockey.

I asked Hockey Canada if I could speak to president Tom Renney about the attendance and was told no comments would be made until after the event when all the figures are in. It will be interesting to see how Hockey Canada spins this one. (Renney, by the way, kind of walked into this situation when he was hired and should not have to take the bullet for this. It will be interesting, though, if he mandates changes two years down the road.)

* More important than the attendance figures, though, are revenues. It’s the same as the NHL in that respect and this event is still projected to bring in profits of about $20 million. Half of that goes to Hockey Canada, 35 percent goes to the Canadian Hockey League and the rest goes to local minor hockey and the organizing committee.

As one agent pointed out, as a business model it might not have been that bad. After all, a store would rather sell 10 suits at $2,000 than 15 at $1,000. Hockey Canada could have sold the event out at cheaper tickets, but would the revenues have been as high? Finding the price point that maximizes revenue is the goal of any business and it will be interesting to see whether Hockey Canada hit the mark.

* Which brings us to our next query. Should Hockey Canada be focused on making as much money as possible from this event or making it as accessible to as many people as possible? Discuss amongst yourselves.

* My son went to the New Year’s Eve game between Canada and USA and had a ticket with a face value of $60 that was in the second last row of the upper bowl. (We actually paid more than double that for it on the secondary market. D’oh!) Early in the first period, an employee of the Bell Centre offered everyone in his row the opportunity to move down to the lower level behind the net to give the impression on television that the arena was full. Wonder how people who paid $300 for their seats felt about that.

* Now, finally, to the ice. There’s an awful lot to like about Jack Eichel. In fact, if I were basing my decision on whether to draft Eichel or Connor McDavid first overall – and let’s make it clear, nobody is doing that – not sure I wouldn’t take Eichel over McDavid. Both have been good, not great, which should come as no surprise to those who know the history of this tournament. Few draft-eligible players - even greats such as Mario Lemieux, Sidney Crosby and Joe Thornton – have made a huge impact on this tournament.

* The fact that 2016 prospect Auston Matthews hasn’t yet committed to a U.S. college leads a lot of people to believe he’ll be playing for the Everett Silvertips of the Western League next season. From what these eyes have seen at this tournament, that makes sense. Matthews, who played his minor hockey in Arizona, just looks like a kid who would excel more at the major junior level. And by all accounts, whichever way he goes, chances are he’ll only be there for one year anyway. Matthews misses being eligible for the 2015 draft by two days, so he’ll be the most mature player in 2016. And he’s a stud.

* Was not surprised by either the money or the term for Nick Foligno’s six-year deal with the Columbus Blue Jackets for $33 million. Was surprised, however, that it got done so quickly, given how Columbus played hardball with Ryan Johansen. It is consistent, though, with their stance during the Johansen imbroglio that a player has to earn that kind of contract and they clearly feel Foligno has done that. It was clear by his start to the season that Foligno was going to command a Brandon Dubinsky-type contract and he got it.

* Next order of business for Columbus: goalie Sergei Bobrovsky, who becomes a restricted free agent after this season. It will be interesting to see if the Blue Jackets can get him signed to a long-term deal or rely on a one-year deal in arbitration that will take him to unrestricted free agency in the summer of 2016.

* If Canada does manage to win this event, it might be able to point to Wednesday night’s win over USA as a huge deciding factor. With the win, Canada got the best possible path it could hope for to the gold medal game with a quarterfinal against Denmark and, if victorious, a semifinal against the winner of the Slovakia-Czech Republic game. Sweden’s reward for winning Group B? A quarterfinal matchup against Finland, which is always a tough out.

* In a hockey pool to start this season, yours truly went off the board and tried to look like the smartest guy in the room and took Jake Allen of the St. Louis Blues and John Gibson of the Anaheim Ducks as my goalies. That, in retrospect, was a huge error.

* Will be driving back from Montreal this afternoon and will miss seeing the Winter Classic on television. And couldn’t care less. Quite frankly, I have a case of fatigue when it comes to these outdoor games.


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