New barn full thanks to junior hockey

PAUL FRIESEN -- Winnipeg Sun

, Last Updated: 8:07 AM ET

Kevin Donnelly first predicted it two weeks ago, and he was bang-on: Canada's world junior team is a big hit with Winnipeggers.

A sellout crowd of 15,015 turned out at the new, downtown arena to watch Team Canada take on Finland in a pre-tournament exhibition game last night.

And a similar crowd -- ticket sales had reached 12,500 yesterday -- is expected for the Canada-Switzerland game tomorrow night.

"I'm not the least bit surprised," Donnelly, senior vice-president for True North Sports and Entertainment, said last night. "I don't want to say I told you so, but ... there's a lot of fever and fervour around Team Canada."

It was 14 days ago Donnelly, remembering the success of the 1999 world junior, said they'd probably need to open the upper level this week. It's a move arena officials don't make for Manitoba Moose games.

It seems Winnipeggers can't get enough of the Canadian juniors.

"People still talk about those games," Donnelly said. "And the world junior has only raised its profile since. It's the style of play, the environment and the fact it's the juniors."

Even tonight's game between Finland and Switzerland has passed the 5,000 mark in sales.

"It's great to see people downtown and excited about hockey at this level. And it hasn't affected the Moose, who are still selling tickets," Donnelly said. "As a building manager, I'm thrilled."

The fact the game was on national TV (cable network TSN) can only help sell the city and the new building, Donnelly said.

Canada dominated last night's game, winning 6-0.

The team opens the World Junior Hockey Championship in Grand Forks, Christmas Day, against Slovakia.


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