Canada loves the world juniors.
More accurately, Canada loves watching Canada at the world juniors.
Toronto, however, is going to find out something about how the rest of tournament lives, at least for the next week or so.
We’re going to find out how much this city will enjoy hosting this outstanding hockey tournament without Canada involved. For now, we are all about Denmark, Russia, Sweden, the Czech Republic and Switzerland.
Until next week, we’re hosting the “other” pool. We’re the “B” city for now, and there’s no disguising it.
Until the playoff round next week, it’ll be Montreal that gets Team Canada and Connor McDavid, and the defending champs from Finland, and Jack Eichel and Team USA.
Toronto gets to be the host of “and in scores from other games . . .”
Maybe that won’t matter in terms of Toronto’s early interest in the tournament, given that this is largely a “gather the family around the TV” event anyway, perfectly positioned in the heart of the holiday season.
But a buzz in the streets of Canada’s largest city right now? Don’t hold your breath. Toronto doesn’t usually like junior hockey much. No wonder Hockey Canada has been terrified of holding the event in Toronto.
That, however, doesn’t necessarily mean the competition that has grown to rival the Grey Cup as a national sporting tradition won’t be a success here. It may just be a different kind of success than it has been in other Canadian locations.
To really get a sense of its diffused impact, you’d have to go into the neighbourhoods and living rooms of Leaside, Sunnylea, Leslieville, Lorne Park and Rexdale to take the temperature and measure the interest.
The Greater Toronto Hockey League is the biggest hockey organization in the world, and if you go to George Bell Arena or Ted Reeve or Grandravine in North York, you’ll see kids competing and probably going home to watch the world juniors.
They just won’t be at King and Bay, and if you’re looking only there to find out if the city is pumped about hosting the tournament, you won’t be finding any buzz.
Expect the rinks in both cities to be generally full. Advance tickets are dispensed in packages, forcing people to buy Germany and the Slovaks if they want to see Max Domi and Sam Reinhart, so the overall sales numbers should be impressive.
The tournament three years ago in Calgary/Edmonton generated profits in the neighbourhood of $21 million, and the entire point of sharing this year’s tournament between Toronto and Montreal (and again in 2017) is to smash that figure.
As the tournament opened on Boxing Day, the remaining single-game seats in the house at the Air Canada Centre were available on Ticketmaster for the 5 p.m. contest between the Czech Republic and Sweden at the price of $172 each, and $82 to sit anywhere in the lower bowl.
That’s a hefty ask.
For the Denmark-Russia game earlier in the day, with the Danes giving the mighty Russians a scare in a well-attended and exciting match, the best seats were still available for $113.25, the cheapest for sale at $29.25, which felt more like an appropriate price for junior hockey.
But this isn’t just junior hockey, right? This is the world juniors.
Splitting up the tournament between Toronto and Montreal is similar in some ways to the way in which the two cities share Rogers Cup tennis every summer, but very different from the way in which the NHL and NHL Players’ Association plan to make Toronto the sole focus of the 2016 World Cup of Hockey.
The NHL believes putting the World Cup in one town will concentrate the interest and produce a tournament/hockey festival feel.
Hockey Canada is betting that won’t be necessary with this year’s world juniors.
It’s an interesting experiment for a tournament that has changed drastically in scope and feel over the years.
My first world junior event was the cozy 1992 competition in Fussen, Germany, a small, gorgeous Bavarian town that excitedly embraced the competition and was more than thrilled to have Canadians visit. Everybody in town knew this mattered to Fussen.
One evening they took all of us media types into the mountains to a hunting lodge built by one of the nutty Kaisers. After suitable amounts of food and drink, we rocketed unsteadily down the trails on two-man sleds past the glorious moonlit view of Neuschwanstein, a 19th-century castle (think Disneyland).
Let’s just say former TSN play-by-play man Jim Van Horne and I have never been closer.
This tournament in Toronto won’t be like that. Maybe no world juniors will be like that ever again. So what will it be like?
The expectation should be that by the quarter-finals, assuming Canada is very much in the mix, there will be a tidal wave of interest in Toronto. Of course, if the Leafs make a big trade or a noteworthy hiring/firing and suck up all the oxygen, all bets are off. The grip this NHL team has on this city trumps everything.
So we’ll see if people flock to Maple Leaf Square when the junior medals are on the line as they would for a Leaf playoff game. We’ll see if a true buzz materializes then.