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Opinion: This World Juniors Should Have Been Free

The players deserved full arenas for the efforts they put in, but a number of factors including high ticket prices conspired against them.
Photo by Steven Ellis

Photo by Steven Ellis

EDMONTON - If you only tuned in for the gold-medal game, the 2022 world juniors would have seemed like any other tourney. The stands were nearly packed, the action was tense (paging Mason McTavish...) and the kids were either ecstatic or devastated depending on which side of the score they ended up on.

But of course this was no ordinary world juniors. To begin with, it was a make-up tournament for the edition that was cancelled after a couple of days in December, when Covid and poor planning forced the IIHF to postpone the event in Alberta.

Then there was the fact it was hosted in Edmonton during the worst crisis of Hockey Canada's existence, where the organization is getting pummeled for its deeds surrounding an ongoing sexual assault scandal involving (to date) two previous world junior squads.

And with most folks enjoying the summer, the tournament re-started at Rogers Place with high ticket prices and very few takers until that final game. Most contests were played in front of friends and family and even Canada games could only interest enough people to fill a quarter of the arena. This was an obvious talking point when the IIHF held its annual press conference on the final day of festivities. Usually, a representative from the host country is part of this - but perhaps understandably, no one from Hockey Canada was invited this year.

Instead, only IIHF president Luc Tardif and tournament chair/IIHF vice-president Henrik Bach Nielsen spoke to reporters and they did not cover up the warts in Edmonton.

"Personally, coming from Denmark, $50, $60, $100 for one of these games - yeah, that's a high price," said Bach Nielsen. "It's a challenge having this in August, but then why not have an August price?"

Tardif was asked what the IIHF learned from the tournament and he couldn't help answer it with a bit of dry humor.

"What can we learn from this?" he said. "Never try to organize this in the summer."

Between the timing and the high prices (which were even higher for Canada games), it was a bad look on TV, but it also impacted those who put in a lot of hard work.

"The kids, the organization committee, they didn't deserve that," Tardif said. "They're not guilty."

So what could have been done differently? I say the tournament should have been free.

Because Tardif is right: the players who gave up weeks of their summer - risking injury before training camps and losing out on time in the weight room at a crucial age - all came to Edmonton because they wanted to rep their country and hopefully achieve a dream that was dashed back in December.

At the same time, it seems odd to reward Hockey Canada at a time when we know the organization misused funds over the years. And Hockey Canada already knew it was going to lose millions of dollars on these games because major sponsors pulled out (the only advertiser on the boards was Tissot, the luxury watch company that was a IIHF partner, not a Hockey Canada partner) in the wake of the sexual assault scandal.

Which is why I think free admission would have been the way to go. The players deserved a full rink to watch them play and when fans were actually in the stands for the gold-medal game, the atmosphere was great.

Sure, there would be some logistics and crowd control to figure out, but that's why you have all those people behind the scenes (much smarter when it comes to logistics than me, it goes without saying).

I asked Tardif if Hockey Canada could face IIHF discipline for the sexual assault scandal and he said that the IIHF's reaction will come after the re-opened investigation in Canada is finished. But the door was open to punish both players and the organization itself.

Now we move on to the 2023 world juniors, hosted - again - by Canada, but this time in the major junior strongholds of Halifax and Moncton. The rinks will be a bit smaller, but the passion out East should fill the buildings. And hopefully Hockey Canada is forced to get its act together by then.

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