World Junior reality: Even when it’s in U.S., it’s Canada’s party

Those who tuned into any of the United States’ preliminary games at the World Junior Championship saw a half-full HSBC Arena in Buffalo, N.Y., with an upper deck that was mostly vacant. The seats were full in America’s semifinal game Tuesday — full of people wearing cardinal red and cheering for Canada.

It’s easy to call it embarrassing, bringing back memories of 2005 when Canadians invaded Grand Forks, N.D., filled Ralph Engelstad Arena and won the first of five straight gold medals. It’s the fifth time in 34 years the tournament took place on U.S. soil and the Canadians dominated Americans in attendance.

2010 IIHF World U20 Championship - #25 Justin Faulk; Copyright 2010 Angelo Lisuzzo (Angelo Lisuzzo)
Minnesota-Duluth's Justin Faulk and the Americans took bronze at the World Junior Championship in Buffalo, N.Y., but they had to play in front of mostly Canadian crowds (photo: Angelo Lisuzzo).

Slow down. Anyone who thought Tuesday would see a bipartisan crowd with stars and stripes matching the number of maple leafs in the seats isn’t doing his or her homework.

Buffalo is a border city, close enough to home for some Canadian fans in attendance that a hotel reservation wasn’t necessary. Canada’s largest city, Toronto, is a two-hour drive to Buffalo. Winnipeg residents had to travel just three hours to attend the 2005 tourney.

It’s not to say Western New York and New England don’t appreciate hockey, but it’s tough to round up casual American hockey fans from the region and get them to descend upon Buffalo for a hockey tournament many casual hockey fans don’t know exist. Canada, on the other hand, doesn’t have too many casual hockey fans.

In America, the WJC takes a back seat to the NFL playoff race, college bowl games and “Seinfeld” reruns.

The first experience many fans have with the WJC is when they notice certain players missing from their favorite college hockey team’s roster for a couple weeks. It doesn’t help that the only TV coverage of the tournament U.S. fans get is available only on the NHL Network, which is only available through certain cable and satellite packages.

The opportunity to see the WJC would be especially entertaining for fans who follow WCHA teams. Former Minnesota-Duluth defensive partners Justin Faulk (U.S.) and Dylan Olsen (Canada) were on opposite sides Tuesday just like Minnesota teammates Nick Bjugstad (U.S.) and Erik Haula (Finland) were last Sunday.

Canada had high hopes for Colorado College’s Jaden Schwartz to be a star at the WJC before an ankle fracture ended his tournament. Five other WCHA players participated in the tournament.

WCHA country, namely the state of Minnesota, is an ideal setting for the States to host the WJC with rabid college hockey fans who can watch their favorite college team’s recruits, current players and in some cases, players a season removed from the program.

That, and the proximity to the border, is why Grand Forks worked out so well.

The Xcel Energy Center seems like the perfect venue to host the WJC. It’s a beautiful arena and has done a great job hosting hockey competitions at the collegiate, high school and amateur levels.

The problem is that it’d be hard to fill 18,000 seats or any number close to that with Winnipeg a good five hours away.

Hockey fans have also suggested the tournament should experiment with non-traditional hockey markets like Southern California, citing the growth of hockey’s popularity. No doubt, hockey is growing in America, but we’re not to that point yet.

The only way for the U.S. to host a successful WJC is to set the tournament in a hockey-savvy U.S. city within a drivable distance from the Canadian border.

There are horror stories of 1996 when Boston hosted and attendance flopped. Montreal was the closest large Canadian city, five hours from Boston. Midwest metro areas like the Twin Cities, Milwaukee and Chicago are all farther from the border than that.

Fans need to understand Canada will always outdraw America at the WJC no matter where the tournament is and the tournament has to be near the border when the U.S. hosts. Detroit, anyone?

33 COMMENTS

      • Hey Guest,

        And your point is what? Is there a law against recruiting where much of the D-1 ready talent is located? The Sioux have players from California, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Alaska, Colorado, Connecticut, Nebraska, North Dakota, and yes, Canada. UND already gets the best of the best in N.D. and it competes handily for recruits with 5 other D-1 programs in Minnesota. It boils down to this: UND recruits nationally in both the U.S. and Canada. They go where the talent is. They do no different than Michigan, USC, Tennessee and Texas do in football and basketball. They compete for their players nationally, too. Wooger proved how disastrous of an approach it is for a big time program to recruit from only within one state. While UND was winning national championships with the best college hockey players in the U.S./Canada and beyond, Minnesota was choking it up with elite former high school stars from within its borders. It took Lucia and his broader approach to recruiting to re-introduce Minnesota fans to the Frozen Four and NCs. Oh yeah, and a handful of N.D. players (ala the Putulnys and Irmen) went a long way to making all that happen. So, take your worn and tired jab at Fighting Sioux success and stick it up your Ski -U-Mah. Yeah, you could say I’ve been waiting for the next person to pop off with that lame as comment. Sorry, I just can’t stand snarky arrogance.

        • Well said! I appreciate people like you that have the sensable knowledge to put Sioux haters im their place…. Here comes Robert Norris Im a say 4-1 or 0 tonight! :)

  1. Bring the WJC back to Grand Forks! It will draw even more fans with games at the UP Center in Fargo then the games did in Thief River Falls, MN. It might not be the same though as the first time it was in GF since it was loaded with NHL talent because of the NHL lockout. It was a blast watching Crosby and Ovechkin in the gold medal game!

  2. I would like to see the Frozen Four in a non-traditional hockey market like Phoenix so fans can enjoy relaxing by the pool between games and we “ex-pats” can see some good college hockey.

  3. Blowing smoke of all the WCHA players on the USA team with no mention of four Boston College players on it. So typical…

  4. SO WHERE IS THE WCHA CONTENT? This has to be the worst WCHA columnist team ever!!!!! I’m done with this crappy site!!!!!!!!

  5. I was looking for the weekly “This Week in the WCHA” column. Can anyone tell me where I can find it for this week? I’d like to read up on what the WCHA TEAMS are doing or up to.

    If you want to write about the World Juniors, use the WCHA Blogs that you columnists now get. Don’t use a weekly column that should be devoted to the WCHA on it. That is just ridiculous.

  6. The travel times were not accurate that is for sure, its less than 3 hours for Grand Forks to Winnipeg and if anyone knows the 5 hour route from Winnipeg to MSP, please let me know!

    As for having the tournament in a US non-hockey town… that would be a mistake. The only way the Russian WJC team got any major press was by being to drunk to fly. Come on back to hockey, America!

    Hopefully, US Hockey will work on airing at least the US games on tv throughout the country. Only offering it on the NHL network is not helping to expand the sport, something that US Hockey says it is committed to doing.

    I would also appreciate a WCHA article for this week, it’s time to watch the Sioux really turn it on!

  7. U-18 tournament in Fargo was definitely not Canada majority. Was at all the games and there was clearly more USA fans at the USA/Canada semifinal game. Bring the WJC back to Grand Forks / Fargo.

    • This guy has got a great point! GF and Fargo, maybe even throw in a little theif river falls and we got some top notch venues and an area where it is easily accessable to both the canadas and US supporters….. @ both Ralphs and Fargo there can be no harm

  8. Can someone please post something worthy to WCHA hockey fans on this site. This is a terrible year for this blog………………………Drop The Puck!

  9. I’m ignoring the fact that this column fails to discuss the WCHA, but how about Duluth hosting the tournie? New dink close to Canada and lots of MN and ND fans would show up

  10. This is the dumbest article written that should be about the WCHA. Please quit, this column used to be great…now it’s a disgrace.

  11. How about Seattle Washington to satisfy the people in the West. You would get all of British Columbia, Washington, Oregon, California and Northern Nevada.

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