Hockey Canada says summer, increased scrutiny to blame for small world junior crowds

Empty seats have been a staple at the unusual world junior hockey championship in Edmonton this month — and Hockey Canada says scandals surrounding the organization are, in part, holding fans back.

While the tournament usually sees thousands of avid hockey lovers turn out for each game, the average attendance for the tournament’s 20 preliminary round matches was 1,319.

Hockey Canada said there are “a few reasons” people have opted to stay home for the rescheduled 2022 tournament.

“First, the COVID-19 pandemic delayed this tournament to August,” the organization said in a statement Tuesday. “And second, there is understandable scrutiny from Canadians of Hockey Canada and the culture of hockey.”

Criticism of Hockey Canada loomed large as the 10-team tournament began on Aug. 9.

The national sports organization has come under fire in recent months for its handling of sexual assault allegations levied against members of two former world junior teams.

The allegations prompted parliamentary inquiries and the federal government has frozen its funding of the organization.

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Big-name sponsors, including Telus and Canadian Tire, followed suit, leaving the ice at Rogers Place free of ads and the surrounding boards devoid of the usual logos.

“Our focus is ensuring the players who have trained for the past several months can compete on this important stage — and for the fans to enjoy a positive experience,” Hockey Canada said.

Crowds swelled as tourney progressed

The first day of the tournament saw three games, none of which cracked 1,000 fans. The biggest draw was a matchup between the U.S. and Germany where attendance was recorded at 829.

Canada played its first game the following day — a 5-2 win over Latvia — in front of 2,779 people. No attendance was reported for a bout between Switzerland and Sweden at 12 p.m. local time the same day.

The crowds slowly swelled as the tournament progressed, with a crowd of 5,204 watching Canada’s final preliminary round game, a 6-3 win over Finland on Monday.

Hockey Canada is one of the organizations likely to lose out financially due to the disappointing ticket sales.

“The stakeholders of the event — the [International Ice Hockey Federation], Hockey Canada and the participating federations — all make financial contributions to ensure the event takes place,” Hockey Canada said.

“Net proceeds from the world juniors are shared between Hockey Canada, Hockey Canada members, the [Canadian Hockey League] and the IIHF.”

More than 1,500 tickets were available on Ticketmaster on Tuesday for Canada’s quarter-final game against Switzerland on Wednesday.

The 2022 tournament was originally scheduled to be played in Edmonton and Red Deer, Alta., in December, but rising COVID-19 cases among players and officials forced games to be forfeited after just four days.

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