A tale of two cities

TERRY JONES -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 9:02 AM ET

HALIFAX -- On the marquee it says "Team Canada vs. Team USA."

But really it's Halifax vs. Quebec City.

"Yeah, it is," said Hockey Canada president Bob Nicholson of which city will host the medal round for Canada's first hosting of the IIHF World Hockey Championships, in 2008.

"They're competing."

Tickets are selling well here. No so well in Quebec City. Halifax takes the early lead.

This, for sure, says Nicholson, is the beginning of the countdown to 2008 and the 100th anniversary of the IIHF being celebrated in the home of hockey.

1,099 Days To Go.

And Nicholson was excited and delighted to arrive here yesterday to begin that countdown with a start he couldn't have planned better if his name was Bob Goodenow or Gary Bettman.

The lockout has opened the window for promoting Canada's first-ever hosting of the world championships.

It has provided a Stanley Cup playoff-free chance to educate Canadians about where the event has gone in recent years.

"This is great for us," said Nicholson. "It gives us a real positive energy, a real beginning, to proceed to 2008."

And there's no question that the interest and coverage in the next month - when the Worlds won't be upstaged by the Stanley Cup playoffs back home - will clue Canadians in on how big a deal the event has become.

"It'll open some eyes," predicts Nicholson.

"It'll be exposed to a lot more members of the Canadian media who haven't previously covered it. The TV numbers have been going up and up in recent years, but we expect they'll take another real jump this year."

Nicholson enjoys it every time a new high- profile hockey writer experiences the event for the first time.

"It's like the players when they go for the first time. You have to live it to know how big it's become. We used to have a real problem getting players to go. Now we have players who hope they'll be chosen.

"This year it will be great exposure."

Nicholson says getting Canada excited about playing host to the event can't be an overnight thing. And he doesn't mind the idea of Halifax and Quebec City competing against each other.

"There is no question the IIHF wants the medal round in Quebec City," said Nicholson.

Hockey Canada has steadfastly refused to say it'll work out that way. Halifax has been a very good city to Hockey Canada and has an exceptional record supporting games not involving the Canadian team, an important consideration.

"It's a great chance for us to see where they are," said Nicholson of playing these two games, here tomorrow and in Quebec City Friday before heading to Riga and Prague to play before opening the tournament in Innsbruck, Austria.

Nicholson is here to "define executive committees in both cities" and to use the games as an opportunity to get both cities excited about 2008.

Whoever draws the most of these two games doesn't automatically get the medal round. But it's the beginning of the competition with the possibility the winner loses all.

Wherever the medal round ends up, Canada isn't going to be able to flit between the two cities to play round-robin games.

If, for example, the medal round ends up in Quebec City, that would, Nicholson says, mean Canada would play medal-round games in Halifax.

The World Hockey Championship record book is littered with host-nation disasters that include the Czech Republic being upset by the U.S.A. in the quarter-final last year, and the Russians failing to even get out of group play when it was held in St. Petersburg.

"There are a few things involved here," said Nicholson.

"Halifax has a great history of selling out. Quebec City has a bigger building and more upside and it's the 400th anniversary of Quebec City, which ties in very well to the 100th anniversary of the IIHF."

Bet Quebec City. But bet on Halifax taking the early lead in the competition that begins now.


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