Alberta sets junior attendance record

Fans cheer on as Canada won their bronze medal match agianst Finland at the world junior hockey...

Fans cheer on as Canada won their bronze medal match agianst Finland at the world junior hockey championship in Calgary on Thursday, Jan. 5, 2012. (Darren Makowichuk/QMI Agency)

Ian Busby, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 11:22 PM ET

CALGARY - Alberta hockey fans have set the bar high for future host cities of the world junior hockey championship.

The Calgary- and Edmonton-hosted tournament set the tournament attendance record by attracting 571,539 fans through the turnstiles of the Saddledome and Rexall Place over the 11-day event — an average of 18,437 per day.

The previous record was also set in Canada. Ottawa drew 453,282 fans during the 2009 championship, an average of 14,622 per day.

Alberta blew that out of the water by 118,257 people, far exceeding organizers’ expectations.

“There were a lot of things that aligned for us,” tournament co-chairman Jim Peplinski said. “The games were great right from the start — and not just the Canada games.

“The weather was great. When we had multiple games in either Rexall Place or the Scotiabank Saddledome, it makes it much easier when it’s plus-two instead of minus-30.”

Next year’s tournament is in Ufa, Russia, and the following year will be a split between Finland and Sweden.

The world juniors will return to Canada in 2015 for an every-other-year swing until 2021.

Already there is talk that Alberta will bid again — and after the success the tournament had in Calgary and Edmonton, it’s easy to see why.

Although final numbers haven’t been released, it was reported the tournament made around $18 million, far exceeding the $7-million guarantee made by Hockey Canada.

By putting the tournament in two NHL rinks, ensuring every single game could have a large crowd, the organizing committee raised the bar for future Canadian-hosted world juniors.

This isn’t the type of tournament that could play in a tiny junior hockey arena anymore.

It has become too big, and the attendance figures from this year prove that.

And with staffs at Saddledome and Rexall producing the contests, the production of each game had a big-league feel to it.

“We brought two NHL buildings into play and crews from two buildings that put on 80-some games a year of either NHL or major junior hockey,” Peplinski said.

“The in-game presentation was awesome. The hockey was strong. The whole package was strong.

“If you were in the building, the atmosphere was exciting, even when Canada wasn’t playing. NHL rinks have a number of benefits, not the least of which is the capacity. It’s a recipe hard not to aspire to.”

Having Canada miss out on the gold-medal showdown actually helped the overall attendance, although the record was already broken.

Fans still showed up for Sweden’s 1-0 gold win over Russia, plus packed the Saddledome for Canada’s 4-0 bronze win over Finland.

“Bronze games are historically just OK for attendance,” Peplinski said. “People just want to get to the gold-medal game that day.

“This time, they got to see Canada play and then had a Russia-Sweden gold-medal rematch. Particularly the way those teams played on New Year’s Eve, people were excited about it.”

ian.busby@sunmedia.ca

On Twitter @SUNIanBusb

World junior attendance figures

Year Host Total

2012 Alberta 571,539

2011 Buffalo 329,687

2010 Saskatchewan 301,944

2009 Ottawa 453,282

2008 Czech Republic 103,179

2007 Sweden 63,493

2006 British Columbia 325,138

2005 North Dakota 193,256

2004 Finland 116, 556

2003 Nova Scotia 242,173

2002 Czech Republic 111,128

2001 Russia 84,100

2000 Sweden 41,693


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