Hockey fan's holiday friend

ROB BRODIE -- Ottawa Sun

, Last Updated: 7:31 AM ET

Are you ready for some hockey? A real, honest-to-goodness reason to get fired up about the puck game once more -- something that might just turn the tap off on NHL lockout rhetoric, even just a little.

'Tis the season, thank goodness, for every red-blooded Canadian hockey fan's old holiday friend -- the world junior hockey championship -- to grace our living rooms. The drums are already beating for the event on TSN, which gets the fun started on Christmas Day with Canada-Slovakia at 4 p.m..

"It's our No. 1 event of the year," said Rick Chisholm, TSN's senior VP of programming and production. "We can't wait for it to start."

If you're thinking that's just a serving of network promotion, consider this -- TSN is postponing its most sacred program, Monday Night RAW, to show a world junior exhibition between Canada and Finland on Monday night (8:30 p.m.).

The mat boys don't get shoved aside for just anything.

Then again, this is a tourney that produced the largest single-event audience in network history -- the 3.5 million who tuned into the 2003 final in Halifax between Canada and Russia.

This year's tournament in Grand Forks, N.D., qualifies as TSN's most extensive world juniors coverage ever. Besides airing all of Canada's games, four preliminary round matches not involving the red and white are on the TSN schedule. Both semi-finals and two quarter-finals also will air. And, for the first time, the entire tournament is being made available in high-definition format.

If you're thinking this is all about filling holes caused by the NHL lockout, well ... not entirely. The world juniors annually dominates TSN's holiday program schedule.

"Every year, we add to our commitment to the world juniors," said Chisholm. "We get a lot of e-mails asking for more games (other than Canada), so we know the interest is there."

Interest, it must be said, that will no doubt get some extra fuel from fans starved for some hockey talk that doesn't require the assistance of an accountant to decipher it all.

"People generally watch (the WJHC) anyways," said Chisholm. "But they'll make more of an effort to watch this year because it's the best hockey that's been available to them since the World Cup (in September).

"It's hockey, you know it's definitely on Dec. 25, so let's look forward to that. It's going to happen."

TSN has Gord Miller, Pierre McGuire, Bob McKenzie and host Gino Reda in North Dakota for the tourney. A one-hour preview show sets the table Christmas Eve at 11:30 p.m.

Hey, it beats anything coming out of a boardroom these days.

By a long shot.

rob.brodie@ott.sunpub.com


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