WJC or­ga­niz­ers hit re­fresh out in B.C.

Ex­pect full are­nas in Van­cou­ver and Vic­to­ria

The Niagara Falls Review - - Sports - GEMMA KARSTENS-SMITH

VAN­COU­VER — A change of scenery seems like it might pay off for an an­nual hol­i­day tra­di­tion.

Ticket de­mand for the 2019 world ju­nior hockey cham­pi­onship — Dec. 26, 2018 to Jan. 5, 2019 in Van­cou­ver and Vic­to­ria — has “ex­ceeded ex­pec­ta­tions,” said Ri­ley Wi­wchar, di­rec­tor of the tour­na­ment.

The at­ten­dance will be watched closely at this year’s event af­ter dis­ap­point­ing turnouts — and com­plaints about ticket prices — three of the past four years in Buf­falo and Toronto/Mon­treal.

“The de­mand is def­i­nitely there and we’ve still got a few months to go. So we plan on the (are­nas) be­ing full,” Wi­wchar said.

Tick­ets have been pur­chased from around the globe, in­clud­ing France, Ger­many, Rus­sia, Fin­land, Swe­den, the U.S. and ev­ery Cana­dian province, he added.

At­ten­dance at last year’s tour­na­ment in Buf­falo — just across the Peace Bridge from On­tario — was dis­mal, with thou­sands of empty seats for many games.

Fewer than 10,000 peo­ple came out for Canada’s games in the pre­lim­i­nary rounds and just

5,533 showed up for the team’s quar­ter­fi­nal win against Switzer­land.

The ex­cep­tion was the firstever out­door world ju­nior game, which drew a record-set­ting crowd of 44,592 to see the U.S. best Canada 4-3 at New Era Field in Or­chard Park, N.Y. — the home of the NFL’s Buf­falo Bills.

In Jan­uary, In­ter­na­tional Ice Hockey Fed­er­a­tion pres­i­dent Rene Fasel ad­mit­ted at a news con­fer­ence that or­ga­niz­ers had ex­pected a dif­fer­ent re­sult.

Hav­ing ei­ther Toronto or nearby Buf­falo host the event three out of four years may have been a mis­take, he said.

“Some­times you can also overdo the sat­u­ra­tion and where it is be­ing played. We have to learn,” Fasel said.

The world ju­nior will be in the Czech Repub­lic next year, be­fore re­turn­ing to Canada in 2021.

Hockey Canada said in a state­ment that it hasn’t yet iden­ti­fied a host com­mu­nity or com­mu­ni­ties for that tour­na­ment.

Or­ga­niz­ers of this year’s event weren’t wor­ried by last year’s num­bers, in part be­cause of the vast dis­tance be­tween B.C., and the Toronto-Buf­falo cor­ri­dor, Wi­wchar said.

“Hon­estly, there wasn’t much of a fear at all, com­ing out west,” he said.

The west­ern­most province pre­vi­ously held the world ju­nior in 2006, when Van­cou­ver, Kam­loops and Kelowna co-hosted the event. Canada won the gold.

“I think peo­ple have just been crav­ing the hockey for the last decade or so,” Wi­wchar said. “Hav­ing watched it ev­ery sin­gle year some­where else, I think peo­ple are just ready for it to be back in B.C.”

With the Canucks in the midst of a re­build, Van­cou­ver’s also a mar­ket with a vested in­ter­est in see­ing some of the play­ers ex­pected to skate this year.

“It’s a pretty in-tune mar­ket when it comes to hockey,” Wi­wchar said.

Venues for this year’s tour­na­ment are slightly smaller than the main are­nas in Toronto and Buf­falo, which hold 19,800 and 19,200, re­spec­tively.

Van­cou­ver’s Rogers Arena has a ca­pac­ity of 18,910 and Vic­to­ria’s Save-on-Foods Memo­rial Cen­tre has room for 7,400 peo­ple.

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