Monday, January 06, 2014

Boston Should Bid to Host the World Juniors in 2018

Yesterday Finland beat host and tournament favorite Sweden 3-2 in overtime to win the 2014 World Juniors. It was Finland's first medal in the competition since 2006, when a young Tuukka Rask carried the Finns to a bronze medal

If you don't know what the World Juniors are, it's an Olympic/World Cup style hockey tournament with national teams competing against each other. It's held annually in late December and early January, and all the players are under 20. It's sanctioned by the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF).

The US is going to host the tournament in 2018, and I think the City of Boston should make a serious bid to be the host city.

Boston hosted the World Juniors in 1996 (Jarome Iginla led the competition in scoring and won gold with Canada), and it didn't go well. It was poorly attended. Probably because it was spread out across Massachusetts, not concentrated in Boston. Games were played in Marlborough, Amherst, Springfield, and Worcester. And the finals were played at Boston College, not at the brand new Fleet Center.

Three important things have changed since 1996:

1. The tournament has streamlined its format and now typically only two venues are used (example: Toronto and Montreal will use their NHL rinks when they jointly host the 2015 World Juniors). Boston could use the TD Garden and BU's Agganis Arena. Those are both within the heart of the City, both easily accessible.

2. In the 2000s Boston has once again become a hockey city. Not just with the success of the Bruins, but with the rise in popularity of high school and college hockey. Just look at what we do with Fenway Park this time of year. We turn it into a hockey rink. BC and BU have combined to win 5 NCAA titles in the 2000s. Hockey East, centered in Boston, has become one of the most powerful conferences in college hockey (9 Hockey East players were on Team USA's roster in Sweden).

3. The World Juniors has become a bigger and more well-known event. The US has hosted twice since the 1996 tournament (in Buffalo in 2011 and Grand Forks, ND in 2005) and both were well attended. The tournament being broadcast on TSN in Canada and the NHL Network in the US has contributed to its growth in popularity and prestige. I wouldn't be surprised if by 2018 (or sooner) NBC Sports buys the US broadcast rights.

The tournament would be a good event for Boston to host. No new facilities need to be built, no highways need to be expanded, no dams need to be blown up, no forests need to be torn down. What's required is a hockey rink with lots of seats (TD Garden) and one with a medium number of seats (BU's Agganis Arena is state of the art, holds 6,000, and is right on the Green Line). You also need rinks for teams to practice at (Walter Brown Arena at BU, Matthews Arena at Northeastern, Conte Forum at BC, Tsongas Arena in Lowell, Lawler Arena at Merrimack College). Boston already has the facilities and infrastructure in place to pull off this event.

And Boston is already host to several notable hockey tournaments: the Super 8 high school championship, the Beanpot, and the Hockey East Tournament. The Garden will also host the Frozen Four in 2015.

New England college hockey players have always been a strong part of Team USA in this competition. Team USA had 7 New England college players (and an 8th committed to play at BU) on their roster for the 2014 World Juniors. There were 5 New England natives on the roster.

The event would draw tourists. Thousands of Canadians fly across the world for this tournament. They'll come to Boston, see the City, go out to eat, have a good time. So will friends, family, and fans from Sweden, Russia, Finland, and the rest of the US.

And I'm sure Frozen Fenway would see a boost in attendance. The Canadians that attend the World Juniors are clinically diagnosed hockey addicts. They'll go to Fenway to see some college hockey while they're in town.

The only inconvenience would be to the Bruins and Celtics. They would have to play extended road trips while the tournament occupies the Garden. The 2014 World Juniors started on December 26th and ended on January 5th.

At the same time the Garden, owned by Bruins owner Jeremy Jacobs, would be able to open its gates to thousands of concessions buying fans, even with its two teams playing elsewhere. And Agganis Arena is always seeking additional events. They just hosted 22 Disney on Ice performances. The secondary rink in Malmö hosted 14 games for the 2014 World Juniors.

In 2011 Buffalo averaged 10,635 fans per game. For 31 games. How many between period Molsons is that? How many hot dogs and sodas? How many lunches and dinners will be consumed at the bars and restaurants off Causeway Street and on Comm Ave? How many additional tours of the Sam Adams Brewery will there be? (On a trip to Toronto, I learned that Sam Adams is one of the few American beers that Canadians respect)

Other US cities that want to host include Pittsburgh and Tampa. I think Boston is a better city than those two places, and a better hockey town. It's certainly a better hockey town than Tampa.

This is a great annual tournament, and I think Boston would be a great place for it to be held.

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