January 5, 2012
Edmonton, Calgary big world junior winners
By TERRY JONES, QMI Agency
CALGARY - As Alberta closed the book on the 2012 world junior, there was one suggestion for the title of the book.
"It was a Tale of Two Cities. It was the best of times, the worst of times," said Lyle Best, the Edmonton co-chairman of the first-ever world junior tournament to be shared by two NHL cities, with all 31 games played in NHL arenas.
He kept up the friendly jabbing in the make-each-other-better rivalry he had with Calgary co-chairman Jim Peplinski until the end.
Edmonton got the best of it with four Canada games, all wins complete with scenes similar to the 2006 Stanley Cup finals, he suggested. Calgary fans paid for 21 games in anticipation of having Canada in the gold-medal game, and it was a bit of a bummer that it didn't work out that way.
But as this circus leaves town, there is the realization that both cities were winners -- big winners, no matter how it worked out in the end.
An hour before the gold-medal game featuring Sweden and Russia -- the next two tournament hosts -- IIHF president Rene Fasel, vice-president and tournament chairman Murray Costello and Hockey Canada president and CEO Bob Nicholson suggested it might take a little while for the host province to really realize the extent of what was accomplished in the hosting of the most ballistic world junior ever.
Fasel said the success of this tournament, and the string of successes in Canada leading up to it, has been incredible.
"You can play these games in some places (outside Canada) and shake hands with every person in the crowd," said Fasel.
"Canadian hockey fans are just amazing. I wish we could have Canadian hockey fans all over the world," he added.
It took a while for Calgarians to get dialled into the Canada-Finland afternoon bronze-medal game. But once the gold-medal game was done, the capacity crowd watching Russia-Sweden was able to leave the Saddledome and say "I was there" as the tournament slogan suggested -- even if Canada wasn't there.
"A lot of people saw high-level European hockey live for the first time, and loved it," said Costello.
"The Russia-Czech game was probably the epitome of it. You saw great goaltending here this week and spectacular games played here this week."
And there was no question of the big-picture success dating back to a year ago, when all the tickets were sold in three days.
"This tournament was taken to another level," said Nicholson, who announced a record-shattering attendance of 571,000, with 440,000 going through the turnstiles.
"That was the biggest delight," he said of the latter, which is the most record-shattering number of all.
Never before have such crowds -- which NHL teams like Phoenix, Columbus, Florida and the Islanders would have been happy to have -- watched games with Denmark, Latvia and the like.
"They didn't just show up for the Canadian games. There were 14,000 or 15,000 for every game," said Nicholson, who said he believed the event pumped $90 million into the Alberta economy.
Nicholson said it was too soon to come up with an exact figure in terms of how much money it made.
"It looks like it will be around the $20-million mark."
The previous record was $13.4 million, from Saskatoon two years ago.
"For the first time the IIHF will receive a share to fund programs in developing countries," said Nicholson. "Canada will now touch every part of the world, which is special."
So where do you go to top this?
"The tournament has never been held in Toronto or Montreal," said Nicholson, telegraphing two locations Hockey Canada would like to take the tournament in one of the the four years -- 2015, 2017, 2019 and 2021 -- that they have already won the hosting rights for.
It is expected it'll be back in Edmonton and Calgary -- in reverse, with the Canada round-robin games in Calgary and the medal-round games in a new downtown arena in Edmonton -- in either 2017 or 2019.
After what the world experienced in the two Alberta NHL cities in 2012, they can't help but come back sooner rather than later.
"It's quite remarkable how Alberta responded," said Costello. "I don't know how it can be better than this."
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