|Go Canada Go!|
You can draw your own conclusions on the booing. I have no issue with it, personally. Some are of the belief that if you pay that much to watch a game (more on that later), you are entitled to do what you want. I get that, though I've never really applied that theory myself as a spectator. There's also the "they're a bunch of teenagers" school of thought, which I can appreciate as well. Either way, what few fans that were in the stands in Montréal last night booing the team was a non-issue. At worst, it served as an audible kick in the pants. It happens and players of a certain age and beyond know it.
The lack of a crowd might have played a small factor in how the game unfolded early on but I'm not bringing it up here in relation to gameplay good bad or otherwise. I bring it up because this tournament should not be held in that damned rink to begin with. Nor should it be in Toronto. Or Vancouver in 2019. Obviously, these locales are drawing the assignment of host team because of any number of factors related to city size, arena size, potential revenue generated, etc. But is there a lack of perspective behind this rationale?
Personally, I think a lot of people involved with this tournament and others on the outside saw this coming a mile away. A year ago Thursday, the President of the IIHF publicly critiqued the organizing committee regarding high ticket prices. The decision to hold the tournament in the same two (large) venues two out of three years has been debated since it came to be known.
All of this belies a simple truth... Toronto and Montréal are no longer "junior hockey towns". At least not in the sense of what a "junior hockey town" is in this day and age. Yes, the Memorial Cup being held at Maple Leaf Gardens used to be an almost annual rite of passage. So were Maple Leaf Stanley Cup parades, too. And smoking in arenas. And goalies without masks and players without helmets. I just finished reading the book "In the Pressure of the Moment", an outstanding biography of little heralded Montréal Canadians goaltender Gerry McNeil written by McNeil's son David. He mentions how Gerry's senior team would sometimes sell out the Forum. All well and good... but also events that occurred more than sixty years ago. Sixty years ago, you could get into the Forum for an NHL game for about the price of a cup of coffee today. A small coffee.
It's a whole new ballgame now. With the entertainment options available in those areas, changes in lifestyle and inflation when it comes to... well, everything, sustaining a high level of attendance for anything sporting related save the Leafs and Habs is a daunting task. Ask the Toronto St. Mike's Majors. Or the Mississauga Majors. Or the Montréal Rocket. Or the Montréal Junior. Or the Laval Titan. And that's not even close to the full list of relocated/defunct junior teams I could draw from. To expect these two cities - wonderful places that they are - to support this type of tournament two out of three years at the prices being asked was asking too much.
Unfortunately, all signs point to this occurring in Vancouver in two years time. Vancouver... where their latest WHL team, founded in part by a hockey legend and less than a decade removed from a Memorial Cup victory, saw their attendance dwindle to the point where they now literally are making a go of it in the suburbs. And can anyone see ticket prices dropping? Remember... this is Vancouver. Just do a Google search for cost of living in Vancouver. There's not enough time here.
I'm not wishing for the World Juniors to go to Val d'Or or Owen Sound or Prince Albert. Again, perspective. But is it too much to ask for Sherbrooke or London or Regina? Want to try a good junior town in the states? Let's see Portland, Oregon or Everett, Washington put in a bid. Decent sized buildings that have for the most part hosted successful events in the past and should be able to put a fair number of bodies in the rink even for non-Canada (or non-US) games. Not to mention fans that will still pay a premium (just not the "Montréal/Toronto leave your credit cards at the door" premium) to get in the building. Somewhere along the line the bottom line blurred the line between revenue and event experience. And with a tournament that should be a lead pipe cinch to succeed wildly in this country whenever it hosts, something has gone horribly off the rails.
So it's a semi-final date with the Swedes tomorrow night. I'll be watching. Many others in the city where it's being held won't. Personally, if I could watch the game without the Nike ads, it would almost be worth it.