Beautiful, historic port cities have witnessed some of the most memorable IIHF World Championship hockey in the new millennium. Remember Gothenburg, Sweden in 2002, where Peter Bondra's late goal against Russia earned Slovakia its first-ever IIHF gold medal? Or how about Riga, Latvia in 2006, where Sweden became the first national team to win IIHF World Championship and Olympic gold in the same calendar year?
Now, get ready to add Halifax to that list of peerless ports.
It's no surprise that this windswept city of 380,000 was chosen to co-host, along with Quebec City, the first IIHF World Championship ever held in Canada. Halifax has an amazing track record when it comes to international hockey – recently hosting two top-level IIHF tournaments.
In 2003, the Nova Scotia capital hosted the IIHF World Junior Championship, and although Canadian fans were disappointed their team lost an overtime heartbreaker 3-2 to Russia in the gold medal game, the tournament set new benchmarks in many areas. Total attendance was a then-record 242,173, profits hit $3.6 million, and TSN had 3.45 million viewers for the final.
Scott Ferguson, currently the Halifax chair of the 2008 Worlds, recalls the lengths to which he and his colleagues went to ensure his city's '03 World Junior bid would win: "Leading into the bid, we had a two-week campaign to sell the event out. We were on TV every morning at 6 a.m., with a 'thermometer' to show how many tickets had been sold. I remember finally presenting the guarantee of a sold-out building to Hockey Canada, and they were quite amazed."
One year later, the 2004 IIHF World Women's Championship came to Halifax, and that too established a new tournament attendance record of 94,001, proving once again Halifax’s love of international hockey. In fact, the 2003 World Juniors didn't just sell out on paper, but also achieved 99 per cent seat occupancy, an important distinction. With less than 70 days left until the 2008 IIHF World Championship kicks off, over 65 per cent of the tickets for the 26 games scheduled for the 10,000-capacity Halifax Metro Centre are already sold.
Fred MacGillivray, who chairs the tournament organizing committee, told IIHF.com: "I think that the fact that the tournament is taking place for the first time in Canada and just the second time in North America will make a lot of Canadian and American players want to come here as a point of pride, and for the European players who don't have to go back across the Atlantic, they'll want to play for their teams too.”
While rosters are far from being determined, some numbers have already come together in terms of off-ice activities. A group of 600 local volunteers is ready to care for the needs of players and tournament officials, as well as the 500 odd media that will descend upon Halifax. Up to 5,000 fans from across Canada, the United States, and Europe are expected to get hotels and celebrate in the city's compact downtown, replete with historic brick buildings and narrow streets.
But ultimately, the main focus will be on the ice. Which goalie will elevate his game in the quarterfinals and prove as impregnable as the Halifax Citadel? Which contending team's gold medal hopes are as doomed as the Titanic?
It will all be unforgettable, as the 2008 IIHF World Championship will be the first step towards the 2010 Olympic Winter Games, as the top nine teams in the IIHF World Ranking after the 2008 Worlds will qualify directly for Vancouver 2010.
Halifax organizers also hope a successful tournament will increase their odds of landing the World Juniors again in either 20.
"This certainly increases our place on the international map," said MacGillivray. "We want to be known as a great city for international events. This region will adopt the IIHF World Championship as its own, and nothing else of significance will take place while it's on. The whole focus will be on the tournament."