The 2015 World Junior hockey tournament is officially off and running, using an unusual schedule that will expand into 2017.
The games are spread between Montreal and Toronto through the quarter-finals, with both cities seeing Team Canada games. At that point the semi-finals and medal games then move to Toronto exclusively. In 2017 the schedule reverses, and Montreal gets the semi-final and medal games.
A few years ago the IIHF wisely decided that Canada would host the tournament every 2 years, since attendance in Canadian cities is so abundant it embarrasses some other countries.
Using outside the box thinking, it was determined that splitting 2 years between the 2 largest Canadian cities, which also happen to be hockey crazy, would guarantee massive attendance. Furthermore, since both arenas hold 20,000 people, it would allow a larger fan base than normal to see the games. The demand is usually huge, and there are always more fans than tickets. Therefore, this idea was a stroke of genius.
Well, maybe not.
Canada got off to a flying start at the 2015 World Juniors with an impressive 8-0 win over Slovakia. All the guns seemed to be firing, the defence was solid, and Canada begins their quest for gold.
The attendance in Montreal, however, was underwhelming. In fact, it was flat-out disappointing.
The Canada/Slovakia game was played at the Bell Centre in front of 14,142 people, when in fact it can hold 20,273. That’s over 6,000 unsold tickets and that’s unacceptable.
And the argument that it was only Slovakia doesn’t hold water, because there are more than enough hockey fans out there who would gladly attend in other Canadian cities. Vancouver? People would bus in from Kelowna, Vernon and beyond for the chance to see a world junior game. Hamilton? Fans would likely still buy tickets after it was sold out just for the souvenir ticket stub. You think Winnipeg would have empty seats, much less 6,000 of them? Forget about it.
To say it’s surprising is putting it mildly. As much as I like to see the games spread out across the country, I could see why the powers-that-be decided on this Montreal-Toronto union, it was practically a given that the fans would show up in record numbers.
So what possible excuse can Montreal fans have for not showing up? I personally don’t care if Canada was playing Jamaica, I would go if the game was in my province. I honestly thought a sellout at the Bell Centre was a certainty, instead the game looked like it was being played in Buffalo.
As proud as we are of how our country performs at the tournament, we also take an enormous amount of pride in how we support it. For goodness sake, we do such a good job we were awarded the honor of hosting every 2 years. And yet here we are, the first game of a tournament Canadians look forward to almost as much as the Stanley Cup playoffs, and there are 6,000 unsold tickets.
The Canadian team is doing their part on the ice, the players have worked hard all year and at the training camp, now the Canadiens fans need to do their part in the stands.
Darrin Hayes is a regular contributor for the Vancouver Canucks on TheHockeyWriters.com. Follow Darrin on Twitter @HayesTHW or on Facebook via TheHockeyWriters fan page.