In a suite dominated by Canadian hockey memorabilia, one would expect the room to be abuzz with maple leaf pride, and on any normal day that might be the case. But for now, the Highland suite in the World Trade and Convention Centre in Halifax is hosting Finland’s organizing committee for the 2004 IIHF World Junior Championship. Their excitement outshines the brightly coloured Canadian Junior Champion banners, and their smiles tell the story.
“We have very strong hockey ventures in Finland, and we are happy to show them all,” says Heikki Heitanen the executive director of the Finnish Ice Hockey Association. “We have learned a lot here in Halifax and we are ready to show what we can offer.”
Finland has hosted the World Junior Championships five times. The last tournament was held in 1998 at the Hartwall Arena in Helsinki, where they won the Championship at home. They hope to have the same luck in 2004.
Next year’s event will be held in Helsinki and Hamennlinna (100 km from Helsinki). The two cities have smaller arenas, with the maximum seating being only 8,000, but organizers say that Finland has a rich hockey history while the crowds might be smaller than the Metro Centre, the fans will be just as loud.
“Halifax has done great,” says Hietanen. “We have a big challenge now. The people are very friendly, and the arrangements for the teams and the atmosphere has been fine.”
Hietanen says that it will be a challenge to improve upon Halifax’s job hosting, but that they have learned a good deal from watching the event organization behind the scenes. For example, he says he was impressed with the running of the RBC World Junior Fan Fest and hopes to create a similar event with the help the Finnish Hockey Hall of Fame.
“We have a different culture. In Europe, we are famous for hockey. We have experience, and we will use these things to ensure that everything runs well.,” he says. “People are becoming more and more interested in hockey. We have a lot of new sponsors, and we feel with financing this tournament will grow.”
“We are excited to welcome the world,” says the mayor of Hamennlinna, Hapai Hellster. “We will look at everything, to see how the event was organized and see if we can find new ideas that we can use in Finland.”
Many of the aspects of the event have yet to be decided, including the start date. But the Finnish Ice Hockey Association says that everything will be ready when it is time for the teams to sign on.