Canada’s National Junior Team, as well as its fans, has found an unexpected home away from home at the Ralph Engelstad Arena in Grand Forks, N.D. Fans from all over Canada have made their way to the United States to watch some of the best competitive hockey the world has to offer. But there’s no mistaking who they’re rooting for – Team Canada.
The Associated Press reported on Tuesday that lineups at the U.S/Canada border in Pembina were backed up for miles. Delays lasted upwards of 30 minutes during normal peak hours between 10 and 11 a.m.
Hockey fans of all ages have made their way to the 2005 WJC to cheer on their home country, and they’ve made a huge impression thus far. Team Canada has had more total attendance for its games at this year’s WJC than any other team, including the United States, this year’s host.
Fans like Jeff Clattenburg, who was donning an entire Canadian hockey uniform – minus skates, say that the amount of Canadian fans at the event is due to the way the entire country feels about the sport of hockey. “We need hockey,” Clattenburg said during the second intermission of Tuesday’s preliminary game against Team Germany. “We don’t have any NHL right now, and this is world class hockey, this is the best hockey out there right now.”
Some wear just plain “CANADA” t-shirts, but there are some fans that dress to the nines, as far as hockey fans go. Kids and adults alike get their faces painted white and red with a big maple leaf in the middle of their foreheads. One group of rabid fans painted their entire bodies’ red and painted numbers and letters on their chests.
Other fans like, Ed and Millie Medin made the trip from Red Deer, Alberta to watch some of their favorite players from Canadian Junior hockey. “Coach Sutter is a Red Deer Rebel,” said Ed Medin. “And there are several players from that team playing for team Canada, so we came down to support our country and our home team.”
The Team Canada players also notice the added support, despite the fact that none of them are technically playing on their home ice. “It’s good to see the fans down here for every game,” said Dion Phaneuf, Tuesday’s player of the game. “The U.S. has their support too, but it’s good to see the Canadian fans coming from all over the place.”
"It's like our seventh man out there,” added Shawn Belle. “It's a lot of fun to see that that many fans make the drive down from Canada.”
“It’s really impressive the number of Canadians that are here,” noted Patrice Bergeron. “For sure, it gives us a second wind and helps us out. We really appreciate it.”
Coach Brent Sutter is impressed. “The support we’re getting from Canada is obviously phenomenal. But it’s not a surprise. It’s our culture and with being close to the border there’s going to be a lot of people coming from all across Canada to support this hockey team. And also, there’s no NHL hockey these days, and people are hungry for hockey and when you look up in the stands and everyone’s wearing a Team Canada jersey, flags waving and stuff, it’s kind of like you’re playing in your own building. Obviously, the kids notice and appreciate it. But it doesn’t surprise us.”
Another fan, Reed Stewart, said that he can enjoy World Junior hockey because it’s affordable. “I can go to one of these games for between $20 and $40,” said Stewart. “That I can afford, and you get just as exciting hockey as the NHL, without the NHL price tag.”
It is no secret that Canadians like hockey. The chanting of “Go Canada go” can be heard in between periods in the concourses of the Ralph Engelstad Arena. “We’re die hards,” said Jason Anderson. “Everyone in the entire country lives for hockey, what else can I say.”
Without the NHL, Canadian hockey fans will continue to find a way to fix their cravings for competitive hockey. The World Junior Championship seems to be the place to be for hockey, especially Canadian hockey, at this point in time.
“Canada is hockey, hockey is Canada,” said Ed Medin after the start of the third period. “There’s no way around it.”