CHAMPS!

Host Canada ral­lies to claim gold in Hlinka Gret­zky Cup

Edmonton Sun - - SPORTS - Terry JONES tjones@post­media.com @sun­ter­ryjones

If noth­ing else, the firstever Hlinka Gret­zky Cup wasn’t for­get­table.

In some as­pects, par­tic­u­larly the royal shaft­ing of Team USA out of a valid vic­tory in Fri­day evening’s semi­fi­nal against Canada, that was not the way you want to build a tra­di­tion.

If you caught games in per­son in Servus Arena in Red Deer or Rogers Place in Ed­mon­ton or the su­perbly tele­cast games on TSN, you not only re­ceived ex­cel­lent en­ter­tain­ment but an un­prece­dented ed­u­ca­tion to lead into the draft year of these 17-year-old kids who just in­tro­duced them­selves to the world this week.

Not only will you now be able to feel like you have a con­nec­tion to these teens lead­ing to their draft day, but be­yond.

It was dis­ap­point­ing that Hockey Canada and the IIHF didn’t an­nounce early in the week when Rene Fa­cel ar­rived, that the 2021 World Ju­nior will be held in Ed­mon­ton and Cal­gary.

It’s clearly not ‘if’. It’s ‘when’.

Most of the play­ers on these teams will likely be se­lected to play for their na­tions in that tour­na­ment.

In the end, with crowd counts end­ing up just un­der 35,000, that’s about 40 per cent of the goal for the sec­ond edi­tion.

Hardly num­bers wor­thy of Oil­ers En­ter­tain­ment Group head Bob Ni­chol­son do­ing any hand­stands. But un­der­stand those num­bers are quite likely, a Hlinka tour­na­ment record. Un­til now this event has been ba­si­cally played in se­cret, as in­deed were most af­ter­noon games here, with only 285 scouts matched by a sim­i­lar num­ber of par­ents and friends in at­ten­dance.

As a first-time tele­vi­sion prop­erty, the Team Canada games did sur­pris­ingly well on TSN with six-fig­ure av­er­age au­di­ence num­bers.

On the whole, it was mostly mis­sion ac­com­plished for tour­na­ment ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor Al Coates.

“It was our whole in­ten­tion was to get it off the ground, do it right, grow it, and plan all the parts of what we en­vi­sioned with the tour­na­ment and the Cen­tre Ice Sum­mit that would make it sus­tain­able on a long term ba­sis. We be­lieved from the be­gin­ning that we needed to play host to it this year for peo­ple in Ed­mon­ton to ed­u­cate them­selves on what it is and ac­tu­ally wit­ness what it is.”

That’s been achieved to some ex­tent and they have two years to work out plans to bet­ter pro­mote the mostly un­known play­ers and the par­tic­u­larly chal­leng­ing con­cept of giv­ing tour­na­ment ticket pack­ages some real value. There wasn’t a rea­son to buy one this year.

The next edi­tion, it’s ex­pected, will not only fea­ture the tour­na­ment but all in­di­ca­tions are the NHL in­tends to award Ed­mon­ton the 2021 En­try Draft to bring the same play­ers back in June to be drafted on stage in the same build­ing. That will add first-in-line, dou­ble down, at­tend a pre-draft func­tion, etc. value.

In the mean­time, a sub­stan­tial per­cent­age of the hockey world de­parts with a very pos­i­tive im­pres­sion of this event to share with those who weren’t here. And that in­cludes the next stars of the game.

“One thing I learned from Bob Ni­chol­son plan­ning an early World Ju­nior with him is that first and fore­most is that the tour­na­ment is about the play­ers and that they have an un­be­liev­able ex­pe­ri­ence,” said Coates.

Teams were taken on tours of Rogers Place by peo­ple like Kevin Lowe and blown away by the NHL’S most beau­ti­ful build­ing. It’s too bad that the play­ers from the Czech Repub­lic and Fin­land were only able to visit for a day and play in fifth place and sev­enth place games in the at­tached com­mu­nity arena.

Ob­vi­ously one thing that needs to im­prove is video re­play so there will never be an­other sit­u­a­tion like the one that cost the USA a spot in a gold-medal game when Canada was awarded a game-equal­iz­ing goal when TSN video re­play proved time ex­pired be­fore the puck went into the net.

That kind of spoiled gold medal Satur­day for a lot of fans. The sit­u­a­tion was caused by hav­ing no video re­play avail­able in Red Deer and de­cid­ing that it couldn’t be used in other games even if it re­sulted in a fair and just re­sult.

The so­lu­tion be­ing pro­posed is to now use it in just medal round games. How about this?

Play the en­tire tour­na­ment in Rogers Place.

Three games on Mon­day, Tues­day, Wed­nes­day and Thurs­day in the round robin with semis on Satur­day and medal games on Sun­day.

It would al­low the teams, all the scouts and the fan bases of each na­tion to stay in Ed­mon­ton and re­ally put the Ice Dis­trict into play with the big out­door screens and mas­sive pa­tio party com­plete with live en­ter­tain­ment be­tween games and fea­ture en­ter­tain­ment af­ter games.

Em­brace the Au­gust heat wave.

If the or­ga­niz­ers fo­cus on mak­ing this a huge hockey party, which they couldn’t do this year with the Ice Dis­trict still a ma­jor con­struc­tion site, they’ll have some­thing.

Pho­tos by Codie mclach­lan/the Cana­dian PRESS

Codie Mclach­lan/the Cana­dian PRESS

Canada’s Sasha Mu­tala cel­e­brates his goal against Swe­den’s goal­tender Hugo Al­ne­felt dur­ing first pe­riod Hlinka Gret­zky Cup gold-medal tilt at Rogers Cup.

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