Canadians buoy U.S. tourney

PAUL FRIESEN -- Winnipeg Sun

, Last Updated: 8:10 AM ET

GRAND FORKS, N.D. -- It's been the most successful World Junior Hockey Championship ever held in the United States -- thanks in large part to Canadians.

A sellout crowd for last night's Canada-Russia gold-medal final -- the first sellout of the tournament -- pushed attendance at the 2005 world junior to just under 200,000.

That ranks the event second in world junior history, ahead of Winnipeg in 1999 (173,453), but behind Halifax in '03 (242,173).

That number may be misleading, however. Cut-rate ticket prices, even substantial giveaways as the tournament progressed, means the event won't record anywhere near the profit of Winnipeg or Halifax.

And without the sea of red-and-white clad fans pouring over the border these last 10 days, many from Manitoba, organizers might actually be counting losses today.

"It wouldn't work," conceded Chris Semrau, part of the Ralph Engelstad Arena's marketing team. "That's what's given this event the non-tangible element that it needed -- the enthusiasm and spirit of the Canadian fans."

Never was that more evident than last night, as flag-waving, screaming Canucks, many with their faces and bodies adorned with the Maple Leaf, made up the vast majority of the 11,000-plus in attendance.

Semrau says 90% of the single-game tickets available for the final were scooped up by Canadians, who obviously believed all along their team would reach the big game.

In addition, many of the American ticket-holders who'd purchased tournament packages had been busy unloading them since Team USA, the defending champ, was relegated to yesterday's bronze-medal game.

No doubt, Canadian fans were eager to oblige, scouring the Internet and local newspaper ads or braving the sub-zero temperatures to negotiate with a scalper outside the arena.

There is no law against scalping in North Dakota, and some opportunists were asking $150-$200 a seat an hour before the game.

But there were deals to be had, too, as brothers Mitch and Jared Penner of Swan River, found out.

"Canada rocks!" Mitch, 18, said, after talking a scalper down to $50 for an upper-level seat as his ears froze near the main entrance to The Ralph. "We weren't planning on being here. We just happened to be rolling through Grand Forks."

Inside, you would have thought you were in Winnipeg, as Team Canada was greeted by a wild, patriotic throng of supporters.

All through the tournament, Team Canada games outdrew Team USA, which, on one level, disappointed organizers who hoped the event would captivate Americans for the first time.

"We did hope we could sell out at least one of the U.S. games," Semrau said. "And none of them were."

At the same time, the event did represent a step forward for junior hockey in the States, particularly when you consider it was hosted by a city of just 50,000 and still easily outdrew Boston in '96, the last time the tournament was held in the U.S.

And it will turn a profit, even after organizers turn over an $800,000 guarantee to USA Hockey.

"We're not sure how much profit above that," Semrau said. "Not significant. Not hundreds of thousands of dollars."

Winnipeg recorded a profit of $2.04 million, while Halifax set a record of $3.68 million.

Next year's world junior is in Vancouver.


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