World Junior Championship: Great Tournament That Lacks Exposure

The long, vast wasteland known as winter break has finally come to an end. I’ll now resume with my normal Tuesday/Thursday blog airing out my thoughts about the college hockey landscape.

Normally, I’d give my five thoughts about the past weekend, but I decided to focus a little bit on the World Junior Championships that have been going on in Helsinki, Finland.

The host country ended up winning the gold medal in a thrilling 4-3 overtime affair that was back and forth all game. The United States grabbed the bronze in a dominating 8-3 win over Sweden.

I can’t remember exactly when I started to follow it more closely. I don’t have to tell anyone reading how scarce not only hockey information is, but college hockey news even more so.

I think I became more aware of it in 2005. I was a sophomore at Saint Cloud State. The Huskies were having a mediocre season that would soon only get worse. But midway through the season, sophomore defenseman Casey Borer was not going to playing in the Florida Classic. He was participating in some tournament in Grand Forks.

This particular tournament is just one of the many things that make hockey so much different than any other sport.

I didn’t know what the big deal about this tournament was. Press coverage was very light. The teams were the usual powerhouse hockey countries: Canada, Russa, Finland, etc.

I didn’t exactly know whom these players Borer was going up against. “Alexander Ovechkin? Evgeni Malkin? Tuukka Rask? Shea Weber? Oh, well I’ve heard of Sidney Crosby. Cool. He’ll be there”

I’ve paid more and more attention over the years. Press coverage has improved. It’s been easier to get information. Not only are players tracked, but also message boards can into discussions about snubs.

And every year, the competition gets better. This isn’t a tournament were Canada and Russia are just trading gold medals like it has been in the past. Despite what may be said about popularity and TV ratings of NHL games, USA Hockey membership has grown steadily.

Hockey is getting deeper not only in the United States (where the next top overall pick will be from Scottsdale, Arizona), but internationally as well. Latvia has some of the most dedicated fanbases in the world. Can you pick out where Latvia is on a map?

This tournament is one that needs to be watched by not only every hockey fan, but sports fans in general. I don’t know if this should be marketed more by the NHL (as many of them are future draft picks/already drafted) or picked up by a major network, but this tournament can make new hockey fans and put hockey to new highs.

We all know how terrible the NHL is a promoting its product and even worse at promoting hockey in general (Women’s Winter Classic, for instance). So the NHL promoting a program that wouldn’t directly result in money in its pockets is a pipe dream.

However, the networks should step up coverage. NBC Sports seems like a logical spot. They have the on-air talent and the knowledge to put on a good show and would be the easiest fit with the NHL coverage already in place.

I can see the main drawback would be scheduling when both NHL games and World Junior games are on. Next year, the tournament is held in Canada, so many times would overlap.

As much as I hate the four-letter network, I do think ESPN would be a good fit. They already have the rights for the World Cup of Hockey (as big of a train wreck that is going to be), so adding another international tournament would even be a good move.

Is it realistic? No. ESPN shows worthless college football bowl games that get numbers just because it’s a football game that is on. I can’t see them bumping even the almighty Quick Lane Bowl for a USA-Latvia tilt.

So there isn’t an easy answer on HOW to get this tournament more exposure, but it deserves it. The Gold Medal game was an absolute classic and it’s a tournament that features some of the best young talent in the game.

I think anyone who is a sports fan can become a hockey fan after watching games from this tournament. It has everything I love about the sport with none of the aspects that drag me down. That should be your task for next season. Find a bar or a friend that has the NHL network, bring him or her to watch a game. Introduce someone to it and their thoughts. I bet they will walk away with a new appreciation of hockey.

One-Timers:

  • John Scott has been voted captain of the All-Star Game for the Pacific Division. I did vote for him for a few reasons. First, him being an all-star is as big as a joke as the game itself. I’d be okay if they got rid of it in general. Secondly, anything that has fan voting is just a popularity contest and shouldn’t be looked at by anything other than that. I hate it when Hall of Fame resumes include all-star, pro bowls, etc., because of that reason. Lastly, and most importantly, I voted for it because I know the NHL didn’t want him there. I’ve been through three lockouts and fully expecting a fourth. They took so many games away from me. I’m taking one away from them. It’s all I can do.
  • Stick tap to Ohio State as they win the Florida College Classic. In a tournament featuring the Buckeyes, Providence, Cornell, and Boston College, its Ohio State that sweeps and takes the tournament. I sure didn’t expect that.

Weekend Preview returns Thursday with some great series like Boston University/Harvard, Union/Quinnipiac, and Denver/Omaha. My shift is over.

Advertisements