World U-17 hockey tickets on sale soon

MORRIS DALLA COSTA -- London Free Press

, Last Updated: 10:03 AM ET

You would think that any team that has Sam Gagner, John Tavares, Drew Doughty and Logan Couture on it would have a pretty good chance of winning something.

"The team they were playing on, Team Ontario, finished fifth. That's the best way to compare the calibre of this tournament," Joe O'Neill said.

O'Neill is talking about the world under-17 hockey challenge, a tournament that has been the launching pad for many a professional career.

London will be holding the 2008 version of this event and O'Neill, chairperson of the committee running the event, said tickets will be available beginning Jan. 29.

The tournament can be equated to a younger version of the world junior. Of the 22 players on this year's gold-medal-winning junior team for Canada, 21 played in the world under-17 hockey challenge for regional teams.

"One of the critical things to recognize is that a large number of players who play in this tournament will play in the National Hockey League," O'Neill said.

An abbreviated list of some of the players who have participated would back up O'Neill's statement: Pierre Turgeon, Sergei Fedorov, Alexander Mogilny, Joe Sakic, Pavel Bure, Mats Sundin, Jarome Iginla, Joe Thornton, Daniel Briere, Robert Luongo, Scott Gomez, Ilya Kovalchuk.

The tournament is held three of four years as a stand-alone event in Canada. The fourth year, it's part of the Canada Winter Games.

This year, the tournament will be held in February in the Yukon as part of the Winter Games. Former London Junior Knights Nazem Kadri (Kitchener Rangers) and Cody Lindsay (Ottawa 67's) are on that team.

The London event will run Dec. 29, 2007-Jan. 4, 2008. Five teams from Canada -- Atlantic, Ontario, Quebec, the West and Pacific -- will take on teams from the United States, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Finland and Germany.

Not only does the tournament provide an opportunity for fans to see the best young Canadian talent, but also this tournament is a big deal to other nations, especially the Europeans.

"The Americans, the Czechs and Slovakia identify their elite players at a very young age," O'Neill said. "It's usually their first opportunity to slip on their national jersey. For the European teams in particular, they are heading to what they view as the mecca of hockey and where eventually they want to ply their trade, so it's a big event for them. It's the first time we're going to hear of a player like Ilya Kovalchuk but it won't be the last."

The tournament is a 27-game event. The John Labatt Centre will be the site of 13 games including the two semifinals, gold- and bronze-medal games. Two preliminary round games will be held in each of Strathroy, St. Thomas, Woodstock, Stratford and Lucan. Lucan, Strathroy and St. Thomas will hold three relegation games.

The outlying communities will make their own arrangement for tickets. But the 13-game package for the games at the John Labatt Centre can be purchased for $135 and will go on sale Jan. 29.


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