IIHF President René Fasel, World Junior Tournament Chairman Frank Gonzalez and Hockey Canada President Bob Nicholson met with the media in Vancouver Wednesday afternoon. They discussed British Columbia’s outstanding job of hosting this year’s World Juniors and the future of women’s hockey at the Olympics, among other topics.
Fasel announced that the three host cities of Vancouver, Kamloops and Kelowna have set an attendance record of 269,510, surpassing the old record of 227,000 set by Halifax and Sydney in 2003. After 27 games played, that works out to an average of 9,982 fans passing through the turnstiles each game.
“I’m happy to be back in Vancouver,” said Fasel, who, due to his Olympic commitments, makes the trip out to the West Coast four or five times a year.
“I was really amazed when I watched TV and when I saw the game yesterday, together with Bob [Nicholson] and Frank [Gonzalez], to see the people,” said Fasel. “We can expect to be over 300,000 after all the games are played.”
“You can imagine all the kids coming from Latvia, Switzerland or Norway--even the Canadian kids--in front of a sold-out house, 18,000 people,” added Fasel. “What more do you need for our game?”
The IIHF President has been overjoyed with the support the tournament has received so far in Canada’s Pacific province. Support in other countries hasn’t been as strong as it is here in Canada. Next year the tournament will be in Sweden, and expectations for attendance there aren’t as high as they would be if Canada were hosting again.
Fasel attributed the lower level of support to the interests of European fans, stating that even the junior soccer competitions don’t draw as well as the senior competitions do.
“Most of the other countries would be happy to come to Canada but they also need a chance to do it and host in there own country,” added Gonzalez. “It’s great for the teams and for the spectators to come to Canada and I’m certain the next time we are here it will be even bigger but I think the other countries really want the chance to organize.”
Officiating was occasionally an issue earlier in the tournament. When asked about the job the referees have done so far at the World Juniors, and what to expect from officials at the Turin Olympics, Fasel jumped to the officials’ defence.
“I must say the games I saw yesterday are not so bad,” said Fasel. “We decided nothing--there are no new rules. It is just an enforcement of the old ones.”
Fasel then talked about the way the NHL has changed its enforcement versus the way the IIHF has handled the rules.
“In 19 we tried to really enforce the rules, but we [also] tried to keep the balance with the NHL,” said Fasel. “I was very surprised that suddenly the NHL decided to enforce the rules. We were just waiting and looking and were surprised that the NHL continued to do so [for the regular season].”
“We had challenges at the beginning. It’s not perfect, but even the NHL is struggling with the [enforcement]. But they have two referees and 10 games a week where they can study it, while we have 31 games here--not easy.”
Women’s hockey was also brought up at the press conference. Fasel was asked if there are any thoughts about cutting back on women’s competition due to the difficulty other nations have in terms competing with Canada and the USA.
“I don’t think so,” said Fasel. “At the Intenational Olympic Committee we are in very strong support of women’s sports. It’s just a question of patience. If we look at the men’s [hockey] competition, in 1928 maybe, Switzerland was beat by Canada 28-0.”
“I think one of the keys here is that both Canada and the U.S. are spending a lot of money on their national teams,” said Bob Nicholson. “We are centralizing and hopefully other countries will start to do that. But I think more importantly, when you look at what the leading countries are doing, looking at an U18 world championship, we have to drive it down to that level so that each country gets a bigger base [of players].”
Nicholson added that 2006 would be the last time Canada hosts the IIHF World Junior Championship in three different venues. He said that limiting the tournament to two venues would be the most beneficial for the players.