Lack of competition makes women's worlds a hard sell

PAUL FRIESEN -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 9:44 AM ET

The S.O.S. call went up last week: the women's world hockey championship needs you.

Ticket sales for the event, in Winnipeg and Selkirk, Apr. 3-10, were lagging, we were told, and Manitoba wouldn't want to embarrass itself on the international stage.

What had organizers perplexed was a ticket total of around 38,000, well short of their 100,000 target.

Manitobans need to step up, they say, or we could damage our chances of landing future international hockey events.

Well, pardon me for suggesting it, but this event is not a slam dunk like the world junior tournament or the men's worlds, and it's got nothing to do with gender.

It's about competition.

The women's worlds is basically a two-team tournament: Canada and the U.S.

A gold-medal final between those two is compelling drama. They've developed a rivalry that ranks up there with the best in international hockey.

Beyond the Canucks and Yanks, though, things thin out in a hurry.

At the last world championship two years ago, Canada outscored its opponents 38-0 on its way to the final.

The U.S. was only slightly less dominant, outscoring its opposition 27-4 before upsetting the Canadians, 1-0, in a shootout.

If you'd bought the all-Canadian six-pack in '05, a ticket package organizers are currently peddling, you'd have watched Canada beat Kazakhstan, 13-0 (the Kazaks managed two shots on goal), Russia, 12-0, and Sweden, 10-0, in pool play.

Things have improved a tad since.

For instance, Sweden proved it's making progress by upsetting the U.S. in the Olympic semifinal in Turin last year.

At the Four Nations Cup in Kitchener, last fall -- a prelude to the world event -- Canada's margin of victory dipped to 23-3 on its way to the final, where it met, who else, but Uncle Sam once again.

That's not to say there won't be some good hockey here in April.

The Swedes and Finns go at it, hard, in any sport. They can even give the two favourites a run for their money on a given day.

Selling China vs. Kazakhstan or Germany vs. Switzerland is another story, and that's part of the challenge organizers face as they peddle full tournament and mini-packages.

The near-sellout crowd for the Canada-U.S. pre-Olympic game here on New Year's Day, last year, suggests selling the gold-medal final won't be a problem.

But you won't be able to buy individual games until the package market has been exhausted.

Tournament general manager Greg Paseshnik remains confident the community will come through.

"The popularity of women's hockey has exploded the last few years," Paseshnik said yesterday. "If you look at Hockey Manitoba's registration numbers, every year there's a huge increase in women's hockey."

That's true, and it should translate into ticket sales.

More than 5,000 tickets moved last weekend, bringing the total closer to 45,000.

This, though, is a last-minute town.

It's a town that knows hockey, too.

And that might be the problem.


Photos