It has become a must-see event on the Canadian hockey calendar each and every year.
But Larry Skinner remembers a time when hopes weren’t nearly as high for the IIHF World Junior Championship, which traces its roots all the way back to a rather modest invitational tournament back in 1974 in Winnipeg.
“It was a just a trial run to see if the thing would go over well,” said Skinner, the co-chairman of that event for the Canadian Hockey Association (now Hockey Canada). “They didn’t know it was going to grow into what it has become now. It’s fantastic.”
The event was held in a rink with 8,000 seats that was never full. Contrast that to the 2009 tournament, to be played at Scotiabank Place and the Ottawa Civic Centre, with a record 440,000-plus tickets already sold.
“We had pretty good crowds back then, but not like they do today,” said Skinner.
He went on to work on the CHA’s behalf at five World Juniors – 1978 (Montreal), 1982 (Rochester, MN), 1986 (Hamilton, ON), 1991 (Saskatoon, SK) and 1995 (Red Deer, AB) – before retiring from his post as director of marketing with the association.
The latter tournament, which featured a sold-out final game at the Saddledome in Calgary, is widely recognized as the year the World Juniors hit the big time. Skinner has no doubt this year’s event in the nation’s capital will be a roaring success.
“I’m not surprised at all,” he said of the support Hockey Country has already shown for the 2009 World Juniors. “I see what happens here with the Senators. This is a hockey hotbed here in Ottawa. It’s been a great hockey town since I’ve been here (in the 1970s).”
Skinner was a part of two previous failed bids to land the tournament for Ottawa. He couldn’t be happier that the tournament is finally set to happen here, from December 26 to January 5.
“It was great to see it happen at last,” he said. “When it came about, I was very pleased. A lot of work
had gone into the previous bids.”
At 78, Skinner will be a part of it all once more as one of more than 2,000 tournament volunteers. He’ll be the co-chairman (with Bob Pugh) of the VIP and NHL hospitality rooms in both venues, overseeing a staff of 30 to 40 volunteers.
“When it came up, I originally wasn’t too excited about it, having (already) been involved with it in the past,” said Skinner. “I’m 78 years old. I thought ‘what am I doing?’ But Frank Libera (the host organizing committee’s co-director of hospitality and protocol) talked me into coming back in an area that wouldn’t involve too much running around.”