Hockey honchos have big hopes for Toronto-Montreal world junior

Toronto and Montreal will host the World Junior tournament in 2015 and 2017. (Darren Makowichuk/QMI...

Toronto and Montreal will host the World Junior tournament in 2015 and 2017. (Darren Makowichuk/QMI Agency/Files)

LANCE HORNBY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:14 PM ET

TORONTO - The last time the World Junior Championships came through Toronto, the marquee game was Canada-Switzerland at an undersold Maple Leaf Gardens and venues as small as Ted Reeve Arena were used.

Toronto played second fiddle to the new Copps Coliseum in Hamilton, TSN was barely a year old and not yet involved in airing the holiday hockey tourney, and few fans took interest unless Canada played Russia in a game of consequence.

But a lot has happened since 1985. The 2015 WJC will see the event super-sized, with the Air Canada Centre holding up to 19,000 for Canada’s games, with quite the din should the red and white be in the gold medal final.

Hockey Canada, the Ontario Hockey League, the Toronto Maple Leafs and the co-hosting Montreal Canadiens were all on the same stage Thursday as the 2015 WJC medal round at the ACC was officially announced.

Toronto is a Leafs town, but in the absence of a Stanley Cup the past 46 years, it gets behind the “other” maple leaf in a hurry when the frenetic pace of WJC games are on TV at Christmas. Having it played in their backyard is something many local fans have pined for.

“No. 1, this is going to be great for the city,” said Tim Leiweke, the CEO of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment. “You look at the economic impact of $200-million-plus for Toronto and Montreal (the latter hosting all preliminary games in 2015 and then exchanging roles with Toronto in 2017).

And the other part is (the Leafs’) 100th anniversary coming up at the end of that cycle in 2017. This is going to be part of a celebration of hockey and a celebration of our history.”

Leiweke joked that “any time the Leafs and Canadiens come together in peace is a unique opportunity” and there were laughs exchanged as they broke bread at Thursday’s announcement. But Hockey Canada got the credit for getting the two to play nice, after the immense success in 2012 when Alberta rivals Calgary and Edmonton joined forces. The acceptance of Alberta’s shared bid marked another defeat in MLSE’s constant pursuit since 1999 of landing the tournament and led to the coalition with the Canadiens.

Putting the two biggest cities and oldest pro hockey markets together was exactly what Hockey Canada was looking for in order to tap into the big business the WJC generates.

Of the 31 games, 18 medal round contests will all be held at the ACC in 2015. The top ticket will likely exceed the $100 it reached in Alberta last year, but Hockey Canada president Bob Nicholson said affordable tickets for a range of fan incomes would be worked out.

All parties agreed that luring new fans with overseas roots would be one of the priorities during both 2015 and 2017, as well as the four times in all Canada has been awarded the WJC by the International Ice Hockey Federation through 2021.

“There will be a lot of byproducts from this event,” said Canadian Hockey League president David Branch. “It’s about introducing the game to new Canadians in a way all of us would like to see it played. It should prove to be a real spark for any number of minor hockey league programs for boys or girls.

“This is an event that people want to see, touch and feel. We have no question the interest will be there. The time has come for Toronto. The only disappointing thing is we won’t be able to satisfy all the ticket demand.”


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